No sooner than the curtain rises on Kasper Holten’s production of Don Giovanni, new last year and now revived by Amy Lane, the names of the lothario’s numerous conquests begin to emerge in scratchy script, projected onto the wood-panelled interior of the Commendatore’s house. Two magical features soon present themselves – the precision with which an array of text, ink-blots and other animated designs can be projected onto the set; and that the set is actually the front face of a giant revolving cube, revealing a 3D labyrinth of rooms and staircases. The ingenuity and execution are remarkable, but both features are quickly used to the point of frustration. Along with the ghostly women and the spirit of the murdered Commendatore that appear from time to time, these may all be Giovanni’s inward, guilt-tinged preoccupations, but they trounce the onstage drama.
Often split across levels or rooms – is everyone else trapped too? – and continually conveyed like game show prizes or sushi by the mighty cube, the cast do their level best, and it’s no wonder there were moments of shaky ensemble with the orchestra on first night. Christopher Maltman’s luscious baritone is the aural reflection of his Giovanni, suavely understated but radiating sexual magnetism. His demise, though, in this truncated ending devised by Mozart for Vienna, has no time to make its mark. His long-suffering sidekick Leporello is brilliantly sung by Alex Esposito, and played with genuine comic spark. Rolando Villazon is the big-name Don Ottavio, not always sounding secure on first night, but with a technique that masks almost any imperfection. Albina Shagimuratova’s bright-toned Donna Anna and Dorothea Roschmann’ s ever-rejected Donna Elvira are wonderful performances. Alain Altinoglu makes a fearless debut in the pit. Take away the gimmickry, intensify the character direction and this could be a more satisfying production, but as it stands it’s difficult to believe the greatest seduction here hasn’t been performed by a come-hither box of tricks.