BY CHRISTOPHER WALKER
Covent Garden’s revival of Kasper Holten’s groundbreaking production of Don Giovanni has been eagerly awaited.
It does not disappoint, with some superb performances from the lead singers, responding well to powerful conducting from that great Wagnerian Harmut Haenchen.
The pulsating set is at times distracting, but this production does give us a welcome new take on a well-known tale.
Don Giovanni is one of Mozart’s trio of great Italian operas, along with Marriage of Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutti.
All three were composed within a few years of each other in the 1780s, that troubled decade running up to the French Revolution.
There is much in common between the three operas, (hardly surprising as they written for basically the same troupe of players) including something of the tension of a cruel and decadent aristocracy at play.
The plot is based on the story of Don Juan – it is perhaps also significant that Mozart’s librettist was a personal friend of the real-life Casanova – and has the sense of a morality play.
The tale of a wicked aristocratic seducer getting his comeuppance.
The dramatic ending has a truly gothic touch (we should remember the opera was originally staged for Halloween in Prague).
As such you might also look to find early feminist roots, but it’s best not to dig too deep.
As in Cosi Fan Tutti, Mozart’s women are rather too willing victims – in a way that is unacceptable today.
Latin American star Erwin Schott, is the perfect choice for the Don.
Combining just the right mixture of attractive lothario and aristocratic menace.
He is also well paired with the choice of Roberto Tagliavini as Don Giovanni’s servant – the long suffering Leperello.
Roberto has a wonderful, strong, bass voice, while also being an accomplished actor. He brought out all the comedy of Leperello’s role, and then some.
Two great stars. But then they must fight not to be upstaged by the other star in Holten’s production – the set itself.
Es Devlin, a stalwart of various pop tours and the London Olympics ceremony, has designed Holten a giant, revolving cube.
This box of tricks looms large, literally dominating the stage and at times dwarfing the poor singers.
Es Devlin says she was inspired by MC Escher’s drawings, fiendish three-dimensional puzzles where people run up and down
never-ending staircases. I’m sure some of the singers would identify with that.
The effect of the set is made even more dramatic by the use four large projectors at the front of the stalls.
Thanks to these, Ms Devlin’s ‘Rubik’s Cube’ is a constant mass of vibrant images.
This is used to great effect heightening the drama of some arias (hopefully the singers have got used to the flickering images).
At other times it resembles the concrete walls covered with the spray paint graffiti which scar so many of London’s railway lines.
Projecting your voice to fill so vast an auditorium while climbing revolving stairs is no mean feat.
But the performers rise to it, including the lead female roles (representing three of the Don’s 3,000 conquests).
Swedish star Malin Bystrom was a particular highlight as Donna Anna. Her powerful voice a match for Haenchen’s baton.
She was complemented by an excellent Louise Alder as Zerlina (the peasant bride the Don deflowers), and Callas look-alike Myrto Papatanasiu as Donna Elvira.
A fascinating Don Giovanni that will delight jaded palettes, and well worth seeing.