A young cast in an established production of Don Giovanni at Covent Garden gave an energetic performance. The Italian language wasn’t bad and the characterisations weren’t undermined by the physiques of the singers: Don Giovanni (Erwin Schrott) looked a credible “dissolute one”, he chatted up a lady in the stalls circle in Act 1 and he got his shirt off in ActII before being claimed by the stone figure of the Commendatore. Donna Elvira’s Act II solo (Ruxandra Donose) was electric although some of this rather restless audience weren't impressed. Nice to have a fortepiano continuo (Mark Packwood) rather than a harpsichord.
The audience was impressed by Da Ponte’s comedy, the complicated acting and the staging - including live fire for the torches carried by the search party with more live fire for the flames that engulfed the unrepentant Don Giovanni.
Unfortunately, in trying to deliver a credible staging and production in non-period dress, Mozart's music was played in an unexciting way. Maybe it was also inexperience. Donna Elvira (Ruxandra Donose) found drama in the recitatives; significantly, it seemed that she was leading the pit rather than being conducted.
The production seemed to be playing Don Giovanni as a comedy rather than a tragedy with comedy to offset and highlight the misfortunes of the unrepentant hero. To my mind, much of the glory of the opera comes from the way Mozart balances comedy and tragedy, the change of mood between recitative (telling the story) and arias (conveying emotion). Not changing gear between recitative and arias looses that distinction. Also the balance between the orchestra and the stage often seemed to swamp the voices.
Snappy fortissimi but many of the arias were played deadpan (certainly not making the most of the melodies) and so much of Mozart's sublime counterpoint was thrown away by unsympathetic phrasing and tempi. There did also seem to be an ensemble problem, particularly evident in the finale of Act I.
Although the audience gave a rousing reception including clapping most arias, I was interested to find myself talking during the interval with another group of experienced Covent Garden patrons who agreed that this was a very flat playing of the music and who didn’t much care for the production.
Maybe this is a “love it” or “hate it” production. Always a treat to go to the Royal Opera but those of us who saw the eighties production of this piece including Ruggero Raimondi (Don Giovanni) and Gwynne Howell (Commendatore), will take a lot more persuading than this evening's performance that this current production is an improvement.
The Royal Opera
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House