DON GIOVANNI | London, Royal Opera House

Director Kasper Holten’s 2014 production remains a visual feast in its latest revival. But even with strong singing and involving performances across the board, dazzle still comes before dramatic clarity in this often confusing rendition of Mozart’s late masterpiece. Conductor Hartmut Haenchen leads a sensitive but relaxed interpretation of the score that occasionally lacks the bite and sparkle delivered in spades by the singers.

Sketch-like projections (Luke Halls) map ingeniously onto a multi-level dollhouse set (Es Devlin), creating the perfect metaphor for our suave hero’s vertiginous mendacity: the Don’s catalogue of conquests drowns the set in calligraphy, until one is genuinely unsure whether doors and windows are real or projected.

But sometimes the production works too much against the text. When the magisterial Malin Byström as Donna Anna discovers her murdered husband, she is directed away from the corpse, lending a curious emotional detachment to the moment. Often the physical interactions felt too safe, as did the stage combat. It’s left to Giovanni’s spurned trio of lovers and in particular, Myrtò Paparanasiu’s Donna Elvira (in her Royal Opera debut) to bring convincing dramatic stakes to the acting.

This production’s inclusion of the moralistic epilogue, decrying Don Giovanni’s as the fate of evildoers, feels appropriately savage and in keeping with a production that covertly explores the consequences of social inequity. Yet with the curious omission of the Don’s descent into hell, we never get to see the man who has got away with murder fully brought down. However inventive this production, it swerves the tragic-comic psychodrama’s final payoff. Fiery damnation.

Don John struts his stuff again on the Royal Opera House stage until 10 October 2019.

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