Mozart Don Giovanni livestreamed from the Royal Opera House tonight., I was at the premiere in February 2014 and loved it. Kasper Holten's staging brilliantly mirrored Don Giovanni's,personality. - always on the move, always elusive, always half hidden even in plain sight. At that time the production was hard to grasp for some, but it’s now proved its worth. This time round, Mariusz Kwiecień is back and as good as ever, with a strong Leporello in Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, Pavol Bresik as Don Ottavio and Willard White as the Commendatore. Marc Minkowski conducted.
The filming, though, diminshes the production. Part of the in-house experience was the sense that the set was like Don Giovanni's mind, composed of many compartments, doors opening and closing everywhere, passages opening out then disappearing. What is reality? What is illusion? Some of the constructs are physical, others projected onto the hard surface throughvideo, always changing, deliberately misleading. Words and drawings appear then fade before you can pin them down. . Don Giovanni, all over. So do not judge this production by the video, and go to a live performance if you can. Though the images flash and flicker, the ending is unequivocal, though it's a variation onn the usual, and it's stunning theatre. Please read below what I wrote about this Don Giovanni premiere in 2014 and also read about Holten's Juan, HERE a movie adaptation of the Don Giovanni meme, not the opera as such but extremely good .
"The new Mozart Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House London is so innovative that it will take time to sink in fully. What is Don Giovanni but an opera that operates on many different levels? Many will panic at the very idea of anything new. But Don Giovanni is so rich that anyone, including the audience, who doesn't keep learning from it, will not do it justice. This production has so much
insight that will enrich appreciation of the opera itself, and of the process that goes into the making of opera. Kasper Holten has pulled off a great feat: this Don Giovanni could be rewarding for years to come. Indeed, I think we'll appreciate it even more once the initial shock effect wears off. Women's names appear on the backdrop, gradually developing into a torrent in tinier and tinier script. We are seeing the Catalogue unfolding before us. There are so many names that they become undecipherable, the identities of the women blurred. What sort of man keeps a catalogue of conquests? What motivates such obsessional behaviour? Don Giovanni's relationships with women are mechanical, bringing no lasting pleasure. What is really behind his compulsiveness? This production is psychologically penetrating and exceptionally subtle. The images often suggest marble, a stone that seems soft to the touch but is enduring. Like women, perhaps, or like the Commendatore's statue.
Don Giovanni smashes a stone head but ends up trapped behind stone walls. Is he in the Commendatore's tomb or in some frozen womb?
This sensitive approach to the opera reveals itself in the multiplicity of visual images. This sensitive approach to the opera reveals itself in the multiplicity of visual images. The central structure , designed by Es Devlin, resembles MC Escher's etchings of palaces with staircases that lead nowhere, and buildings that reverse themselves in precise, but
irrational ways. Like Don Giovanni's mind. He compartmentalizes his
emotions, locking them in a maze of subterfuge. He needs escape routes if only to escape responsibility for himself. Perhaps he seeks challenge in order to prove himself? Gambling with the Commendatore is the ultimate dare. Leporello's scared but Don Giovanni is defiant. Suicide by Stone Guest?
Onto this structure, numerous images are projected, allowing exceptionally rapid changes of nuance and detail. Music develops with every note and operates on many simultaneous layers. Physical stagecraft just can't compete. It felt as if we were watching notation dance and come to life. At one stage the singers are seen each in their individual vortexes, moving forwards while being pushed back by the force of the visual projections. We know it's video, but the image is so powerful that it expresses the force of the music and the psychic trauma the characters are going through.Luke Hall's video designs elevate projection into an art form. A hundred years ago, electricity transformed stagecraft : now we are heading into a new doimension.Nicola Luisotti's conducting emphasized agility and brittleness. This wasn't a full-blooded Romantic interpretation, but something at once
late Baroque and surprisingly modern. How poisonously dissonant the fortepiano, harpsichord and cello continuo sounded! Don Giovanni was elegant though he used his grace for evil purposes. (Luisotti played the fortepiano).
Watching this Don Giovanni was stimulating because the visuals, for once, kept up with the constant motion in the music, which reflects Don Giovanni's obsession with
staying ahead of the game. This production elevates video into art form, much in the way that electricity transformed stagecraft a hundred years ago, yet it's also pertinent to meaning. Don Giovanni is a master of
deception. Portraying his personality through tricks of light intensifies the sense of constantly changing illusion. When Leporello hides, we can still just about see him, camouflaged in moving shadows. When the Stone Guest appears, he materializes as if from the very
structure of the building, By this stage in the opera, the images are becing more recognizable, as if reality is starting to intrude on Don Giovanni's consciousness. The Stone Guest stands above the image of an eye, a reference to the all-seeing Eye Of God, often seen in Catholic symbolism, and also in Freemasonry. Normal physical staging could not produce this level of detail.
When Don Giovanni is drawn down to hell, he's seen trapped behind high walls that fill the whole stage area. All his life, Don Giovanni has survived by manipulating people. Suddenly, he's all alone. What can be more horrifying to someone like that to be alone and having to confront himself ? Being entombed alive is far more chilling than comic book hellfire. Moreover, he hears the Sextet, taunting him from a distance. The "happy ending" is sometimes unrealistic, like an add-on moral lesson. Here, it's incredibly poignant.
Part of the joy of this production was the way the visuals stayed as backdrop, allowing the singers to take prominence. The big set arias were given full prominence. In this production, Mariusz Kwiecień was very much the central character. His elegance suggested Don Giovanni
assumed his superiority as if it were his natural right. As the net closes in on the character, Kwiecień sang with vehemence verging on
demonic, without losing his innate poise.