Don Giovanni review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘a thrilling ride’
Swirling images of naked women, conquests catalogued in ghostly handwriting on palace walls – the video designs by Luke Halls take us deep inside the head of serial seducer Don Giovanni.
Director Kasper Holten sees Giovanni as a haunted man trying to escape from his emptiness by chasing pleasure. If he stops, it all comes crashing down – as indeed it does in the last act. No physical hell for the seductive, feline figure of Mariusz Kwiecien, just a small man on an empty stage looking into the black auditorium.
Kwiecien is rapacious and ubiquitous; he stalks his prey, weaving in and out of Es Devlin’s Escher-like mansion, with its doors and staircases offering hiding places to the ghosts of lovers and Willard W White’s sepulchral Commendatore. Even the luscious, rippling soprano of Rachel Willis-Sorensen as Donna Anna and Hrachuhi Bassenz’s winning Elvira, both in exquisite gowns by Anja Vang Kragh, cannot save Giovanni from his demons.
Holten seems less interested in relationships than the individual turmoil of his characters – couples rarely touch or stand together and even the pert manipulator Zerlina (Chen Reiss) and her doltish Masetto (Anatoli Sivko) sing the flirtatious Batti, Batti from opposite sides of the stage. There’s no connection between Kwiecien’s Giovanni and the Leporello of Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, whose stately bass-baritone doesn’t lend itself to comedy. Pavol Breslik makes much of the thankless role of Don Ottavio and his Il Mio Tesoro was genuinely moving.
Not everything in this frantic production illuminates the opera, but it’s a thrilling ride thanks to the excellent singing.
The orchestra played well, but conductor Marc Minkowski’s speeds made problems of ensemble on the first night, rather than creating a sense of excitement.