Back in February 2013, Eugene Onegin - Kasper Holten’s first production for the Royal Opera - took to the Covent Garden stage and duly sank; so it is pleasant to be able to record that the Danish director’s new staging of what is regularly regarded as one of the trickiest of all repertory pieces to realise effectively is a genuine success.
Alex Esposito and Mariusz Kwiecien Photo: Tristram Kenton
Visually this is a fascinating evening. Designer Es Devlin has come up with an endlessly adaptable structure of rooms, staircases and facades that swivels around seamlessly, conjuring an infinity of Escher-like spaces for the action to evolve in. Video designer Luke Halls covers it with a variety of images and colours, starting with the very pertinent one of a handwritten list of the names of Don Giovanni’s lovers/victims, presumably as recorded in Leporello’s ‘not small book’, as he terms it. Anja Vang Kragh’s often flamboyant costumes place the period around 1870. Not everything that happens is readily explicable - Holten’s approach doesn’t always follow the no-nonsense trajectory of a clear linear narrative, but then neither, some would say, does Da Ponte’s libretto - but it is invariably resonant and thought-provoking.
Holten is lucky with his cast, led by Mariusz Kwiecien’s suave and sophisticated Giovanni, Malin Bystrom’s grand-scaled Donna Anna and Alex Esposito’s all-too-human Leporello. Also extremely worthwhile are Elizabeth Watt’s perky Zerlina, Dawid Kimberg’s easily manipulated Masetto and Antonio Poli’s sweet-toned Ottavio, while Alexander Tsymbalyuk makes a sonorous Commendatore. Conductor Nicola Luisotti is a flexible exponent of the score, ensuring that musical standards match the dramatic ones.