Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House
Not particularly well received at its premiere, as with others he directed, specifically Meistersingers, Kasper Holten’s production of Don Giovanni, revived by Amy Lane, becomes a much more interesting and user friendly production third time round.
The action opens with walls portraying the names of Don Giovanni’s conquests. This is a somewhat distasteful start. Thereafter, we are faced with a fairly straightforward set, designed by Es Devlin as a revolving cube with rooms and spaces on which video is projected, sometimes relevant, sometimes not so – a little bit like Don Giovanni’s mind!
The French conductor is Marc Minkowski, who gave a workmanlike performance with good pace, but without necessarily exploring the intricacies of all of Mozart’s musical lines. However, he was always in tune with his singers, constantly guiding them to the heights of their delivery powers.
The singers were all on fine form, particularly the Don Giovanni of Mariusz Kwiecien and his servant, the Leporello of Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, who were outstanding. D’Arcangelo provided the comedy performance of the night and his bass voice matched the superb baritone sound of Kwiecien throughout the evening, both producing great intensity and control. It was singing of the very highest calibre, made even more interesting at the end with Kwiecien’s final aria ‘A cenar teco m’invitasti’, which became Holten’s finale to this opera and a very powerful one too. In deference to 19th century productions, the performance omitted the final ensemble after Don Giovanni’s death.
Further important performances came from the full voiced Donna Ann of Rachel Willis-Sorensen, who has a real Wagnerian quality to her voice, together with the growling and frightening Commendatore of Willard White.
Whilst Holten took liberties with the finale, particularly with no food on the table for the ghost’s invitation to dinner, this was a performance where all of the voices delivered real quality.
The Don Ottavio of Pavol Breslik, the Donna Elvira of Hrachuhi Bassenz, the Zerlina of Chen Reiss and Masetto of Anatoli Sivko, all added to the pleasure of the evening.
Some purists will not like Holten’s musical cuts that seemed to have blighted the premiere in 2014, but it was impossible not to feel the intensity of Don Giovanni’s final journey to hell. The shame was that this intensity almost made the audience feel that this Don did not deserve his fate and as the curtain went down they cried out for more.