Directed by Kasper Holten when he was in the hot seat at Covent Garden, the production pre-dates #MeToo. Now we are more sensitive than ever to tales of male power over vulnerable women, a challenge for all writers and directors. But here the passion between the libidinous Don and an unusually sensuous Donna Anna is clearly a mutual affair. She is engaged to the sensible Don Ottavio, but it is Mariusz Kwiecień's Don who gets her going. And it's Donna Anna who turns the tables on Giovanni, hastening his downfall.
A stylised tell-tale stain slashes across Donna Anna's sumptuous gown (costumes by Anja Vang Kragh), as it does the party dresses of many of the Don's guests at his crazy party, concluding Act One. By now his master's womanising is exasperating even his loyal manservant Leporello, here played by the Italian singer Ildebrando D'Arcangelo with a dream combination of clowning in the mould of his rubber-faced countryman Roberto Benigni, and a full-bodied bass-baritone voice that ends half-way across the piazza outside.
Don Giovanni (Maraiusz Kwiecień) takes advantage of peasant bride Zerlina (Chen Reiss). Photo: Bill Cooper
Luke Hall's video projections, starting with that scribbled lists of names, increasingly overlay the solid, revolving, Escher-like set of never-ending stairs designed by Es Devlin. Characters are constantly on the move, going up and down literally and morally, but at the same time the Don is losing his grip on reality and can no longer see, through the maze of light and lines, what is staring him in the face: the game is up.
Long before the scene in which the father of Donna Anna, the Commendatore whom he has murdered, comes back to haunt him, out of the corner of his eye he alone sees the bloodied figure – Willard White gliding silently through the labyrinth and singing his invitation to dinner beyond the grave with a sepulchral chill.
When the Don rashly accepts this date, his fate is sealed. And this production radically cuts the closing sextet that delivers a cheerful moral message, and ends the opera with the Don's agonised cry. Personally, I like a bit of "serves him right", and so did Mozart, and so did the 19th century in which this production is set. But some modern minds find it trite, and the first night audience loved this grand guignol finish.
Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Donna Anna cannot resist her lover, Don Giovanni. Photo: Bill Cooper
It's far from gruesome in the pit, however, where conductor Marc Minkowski drew some really expressive and detailed playing from the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, notably from the cellos and woodwind. Christopher Willis at the fortepiano echoed the 19th-century look, and the rattling recitative was a treat.
Rachel Willis-Sørensen's Donna Anna has rare heat and glamour, and Kwiecień's rootless Don manages to be both omnipresent and fading fast. Chen Reiss is a positively regal peasant bride Zerlina: the Vienna State Opera with which she often works has left its elegant mark.
Newcomers to this must-see opera will find the story well told with thrilling musicianship and terrific ensemble singing, while there are fresh idea for existing fans. You can always listen to sextet on the internet when you get home: look for "Questo è il fin di chi fa mal", and sing along with lip-smacking relish...
Don Giovanni is sung in Italian with English surtitles. Performances are on 3,6,9,12 and 17 July. The performance on 12 July will be relayed free to big screens outdoors across London: click here for your nearest screen
|What||Don Giovanni review , Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|