At the beginning of term, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Royal Opera House to watch the dress rehearsal of Mozart’s darkest and perhaps most disturbing piece. Charting the exploits and eventual downfall of opera’s most notorious philanderer, I had high expectations for The Royal Opera House’s interpretation of Don Giovanni.
Before I begin, I must stress that this was foremost, a dress rehearsal, which was not without its imperfections. It is rare in an actual performance that members of the cast are unfamiliar with the set (predicting the speed and movement of the giant revolving wall proved a little too much for some singers – one hopes their heads were too full of top B flats to employ spontaneous spatial awareness). Nor is an actual performance accompanied by a steady ostinato of clicking from an orchestra of press cameras; or so the original score suggests. However, such unpolished moments were, of course, understandable in rehearsal, admitting an ‘insight view’ into that most inner of sanctums: the making of an opera.
The production itself is not new; it is rather a revival of a production first conceived at Covent Garden in 2002 by American director, Francesca Zambello.
Controversially at the time, Zambello described Don Giovanni as “a woman’s opera” – unusual for a story very heavily revolving around the escapades and sexual conquests of the infamous rake. The interpretation, however, seemed to me to be anything but feminine.
The production was beset by a sense of dark deterioration, almost too disturbingly visceral to be comfortable to watch. The revolving set consisted only of a huge curved wall, on one hand adorned in a hellish, decaying cage like structure, but equally dominated by a brash, ever watchful Virgin Mary.
The decrement extended further, to a very corporal and humanly primitive interpretation of decay; fitting for an opera exploring sex, death, and base human instinct. The hair of all male characters lies very long, and disgustingly slicked back at the crown with a greasiness that only Draco Malfoy could be proud of. Don Giovanni, too, appears on several occasions partially or fully naked, joyously clutching, in the final tableau, a naked female figure (having said that, my older associate was unimpressed by the amount of nudity in the production, preferring, apparently, the Bologna production, featuring an orchestra of bare-breasted ladies).
Constantinos Carydis directed the music with energy and finesse, bringing a delightful lift and sense excitement to the score, considering it was only a dress rehearsal. Supported by a very strong cast, Gerald Finley embraced the interpretation of a physically overpowering Don Giovanni, at one point climbing a swinging rope with the power and athleticism of a man half his age. The show, however, was undoubtedly stolen by Lorenzo Regazzo’s inept Leporello, providing an intelligent awareness of his humourous physicality.
I was impressed, but left disquieted and uncomfortable; the opera was by no means pleasant to watch. Nor was it particularly in keeping with Mozart’s notoriously easy-to-listen-to score, but my god, it was powerful, despite not achieving Zambello’s original vision of “a woman’s opera”.
Don Giovanni runs at the Royal Opera House from the 21st January – 29th February 2012.