Don Giovanni

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart/Lorenzo Da Ponte
The Royal Opera
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Don Giovanni - the set Credit: Bill Cooper, ROH
Erwin Schrott (Don Giovanni) and Zuzana Markova (Zerlina) Credit: Bill Cooper, ROH
Don Giovanni - the set Credit: Bill Cooper, ROH

Its first title was Il dissoluto punito, but this revival of Kasper Holten’s production, like the current one in Prague, might alternatively be called (spoiler alert) Il dissoluto beats the rap.

It would not be quite right to say that Erwin Schrott’s Don does not suffer at all. He is a haunted figure, as well as a haunting one. Cocky, vain, intimidating, brutal, ever rising on a cloud of his own worthlessness, he’s the man every husband would hate.

Worse, he is spared the fires of hell. Yet as he stands alone before the final curtain, blinking in disbelief that he is still alive, he seems drained of his powers drawn from the thousands of women he has betrayed.

This is however far from a feminist interpretation. I wasn’t convinced by the Nicholas Harnoncourt Giovanni when that conductor said of his own production that all the women were still in love with the libertine. Yet here too, his victims cast off their outer garments at the mere sight of him like roses losing petals in a light breeze.

Zuzana Markova’s Zerlina knows a good thing if she can get it, and a good time if she can’t; Nicole Chevalier’s Elvira is a lost cause, although her girlish incredulity at the Don’s conquests is hard to take; as for the magnificent Adela Zaharia as Anna, her cries for help are mere play-acting, and even when confronted with her father’s murderer, she is just a finger-tip away from succumbing again to his charms.

The stage is dominated by a disorientating set of doors and panels, populated by ghostly figures, and against which are projected the names of Giovanni’s past conquests, giving an immediate sense of the appalling scale of his activities.

Schrott, the only repeat singer from the previous 2019 revival, exudes the dark tone and devilish arrogance that he brought to Covent Garden as Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust, yet even he can disappear, wraith-like into this disturbing, hallucinatory and slightly tawdry background.

While the Don’s fortunes prosper, we see the steady disintegration of his servant Leporello, brilliantly acted, wonderfully sung by Gerald Finley, coming across like a sad clown who just cannot go on any more.

All the principals are high-class, with Zaharia outstanding for impressive strength throughout her range. Her top notes, sung piano in rejecting Don Ottavio’s suit, are exquisite. Markova has an incisive but ingratiating tone, and is a splendid actress, complemented by the fine bass Michael Mofidian as Masetto.

Chevalier, after a less impressive start, is in commanding form later, especially in her act 2 scena and aria Mi tradi and the sweet-voiced Frederic Antoun invests the spurned Don Ottavio with a dignity not always found in the role.

The orchestra brings out the colours appropriate to the action, but conductor Constantin Trinks occasionally allows its enthusiasm to get the better of the ideal balance with the singers.

Reviewer: Colin Davison