Out of the three opera’s on which De Ponte collaborated with Mozart, Don Giovanni is the most dramatically compact and lucid. Anyone who knows the opera might think it is difficult to completely muck up in its staging, but in 2014 Caspar Holten reminded us that the truth is otherwise. As a parting flop, the Royal Opera House’s previous Artistic Director decided that the perfeclty good previous house production was no longer good enough and that he should induce the long suffering audience at Covent Garden to suffer the complete bilge he offered. Its main achievement is the technical wizardry demonstrated in the lighting design, but even that is more interesting as a spectacle than in furthering a coherent or interesting idea.
It is with the fourth revival of this production that the Royal Opera opens its Autumn season this year. Erwin Schrott is in the title role but this was not one of his finer performances. He seemed almost entirely uninterested in the character, and what was worse, his singing was persistently unmusical. Deh vieni alla finestra is often a good gauge with which to measure this role. The minimal accompaniment is exposing in the extreme. The aria requires sensitivity to the character and a command of the musical line as well as technique. Suffice to say that the first two were lacking. In fact, the accompaniment to the aria also demonstrated another peculiarity of the evening. It often sounded as if the conductor Hartmut Haenchen was in a rush to get away, giving a distracted and commonplace reading of the score with the consequence that some passages sounded fast and uninteresting and lacking in urgency all at the same time.
So far so much opera seen from beneath a knitted brow. Despite this, there were some very fine performances. Malin Byström is a very good Donna Anna as she reprises her role from the original run of this production in 2014. Opposite her Emanuele D’Aguanno sings a superb Don Ottavio. He has all the mellifluousness of sound and fragility that is required for the complete wet fish of a character he has to play. Louise Alder’s Zerlina was delightful and produced one of the outstanding performances of the evening. Leon Košavić was a slightly repressed Masetto and Brindley Sherratt was a predictably solid Commendatore. Myrtò Papatanasiu was not all one might hope a Donna Alvira to be and was the only singer to appear to struggle through the evening. She had a weak and bleating quality to her voice which was entierly unsuitable. Roberto Tagliavini’s Leporello didn’t disappoint but didn’t impress either.
Perhaps things will evolve in the coming performances and by the final evening all will be much better than on this opening night. What cannot improve is the production. It is full of needless reinterpretations of the action which run contrary to its dramatic flow. Not content with draining the life out the opera, Caspar Holten also saw fit to vandalise it by cutting the final scene. There are a few productions now at Covent Garden that would benefit from a spot of euthanasia, this one should be somewhere near the top of the list.