Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House
Mozart’s Don Giovanni in Es Devlin’s rotating set design is reminiscent of MC Escher’s lithograph Relativity (1953), inferring complex, highly nuanced and deeply contradictory bodies within the structure of stairs, doors and complicated paths of lies, deceit, seduction and love. Kasper Holten’s direction captures the graphic work beautifully through the relationship of characters with each other and with themselves. Donna Elvira (Myrtò Papatanasiu) is the hysterical lover, the “mad girl” who struggles with her conflicting emotions for an unfaithful lover, but the power of her will to confront Don Giovanni (Erwin Schrott) and even to forgive him is phenomenally matched by a powerful voice that communicates the nature of the contradiction of life itself.
Leporello (Roberto Tagliavini) is the comic servant who woefully follows a master whose values do not extend beyond an insatiable appetite for women. He is also the serious companion who observes, learns and teaches values associated with the knowledge that to be human comprises not merely the concerns of the body but also the soul. When Don Giovanni murders Donna Anna’s (Malin Byström) father, the Commendatore (Brindley Sherratt), after eloping with her, Leporello asks, “Who is dead, you or the old man?”. Don Giovanni’s response, “What a dumb question!” echoes as ghosts of women appear as if emanating from the walls.
Zerlina (Loise Alder), whose comic role borders on the pathetic, is able to rise above her image as the stupid peasant girl by reclaiming her virtue of innocence and thereby winning the trust of Masetto (Leon Košavić). Her voice invokes the strength of her faith, love and devotion, mirrored by Don Ottavio’s (Daniel Behle) unfaltering support of Donna Anna – whose body is visibly stained in Anja Vang Kragh’s costume design – as she too succumbs to the battle between passion and virtue.
Donna Anna’s painful and emotionally chilling cry when she discovers the truth about Don Giovanni is complicated by her desire for him. Her stain grows as if the black ink of the names, words and scribbles that mark the mansion are projected onto her body. Luke Hall’s video design creates an interaction between the building, the bodies within it and the narrative, which embodies the disjointed communication between the body and the soul. This culminates in Don Giovanni’s exclamation as ghosts of women and the Commendatore move menacingly around him to the music of a ghost wind band: “Give up women? You’re crazy! You know I need them more than the bread I eat, than the air I breathe!” he cries as he gorges on food and wine at the last supper.
Conducted by Harmut Haenchen, with musical direction by Sir Antonio Pappano, this is a dazzling, visually-thrilling and intellectually stimulating interpretation of a classic opera with music by Mozart and libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.
Photo: Mark Douet
Don Giovanni is at the Royal Opera House from 13th September until 10th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.