Mozart: Don Giovanni [Mariusz Kwiecien, Alex Esposito, Alexander Tsymbalyuk] 
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"Its [Kasper Holten's version of Mozart's Don Giovanni] virtues start with Es Devlin's handsome set - a slowly revolving cube depicting the interior and exterior of a many-chambered plantation-style mansion - and Anja Vang Kragh's imaginative costuming, which locates the period around 1840. " (The Daily Telegraph ★★★★)
"With a cast that could not be bettered today allied to an insightful if sometimes idiosyncratic staging, this is a Don Giovanni that is never boring, often thrilling, and demands to be seen." (What's on Stage ★★★★)
"And in the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien he's [Kasper Holten] found the man for the job: when this Don appears on Donna Anna's balcony, coolly adjusting his dress, he exudes such debonair attraction that the evident eagerness of Malin Bystrom's Donna Anna is entirely believable ... the drama gains steadily in force thanks to the beauty of the singing, the charisma of Alex Esposito's winningly clown-like Leporello, and the ingenious suggestiveness of Luke Halls’ video superimpositions on Es Devlin's set.
" (The Independent)
"Kwiecien's eloquently sung Giovanni heads a strong cast. Particularly impressive is Malin Byström's Donna Anna, whose moving Non mi dir is addressed not to Don Ottavio but first to her dead father (via his bust) and then to Giovanni himself. Véronique Gens offers a sympathetic Donna Elvira, impassioned rather than hysterical in her inability to give up on Giovanni. Even in Leporello's Catalogue Aria she embraces Giovanni, willing it not to be true. Alex Esposito's resourceful Leporello also seems to be smitten by Giovanni, as is Elizabeth Watts's lively, engaging Zerlina. Nicola Luisotti draws sensuous playing from the ROH orchestra ..." (The Evening Standard ★★★★)
"The Danish director's [Kasper Holten] new staging of what is regularly regarded as one of the trickiest of all repertory pieces to realise effectively is a genuine success.
Visually this is a fascinating evening. Designer Es Devlin has come up with an endlessly adaptable structure of rooms, staircases and facades that swivels around seamlessly, conjuring an infinity of Escher-like spaces for the action to evolve in.
Holten is lucky with his cast, led by Mariusz Kwiecien's suave and sophisticated Giovanni, Malin Bystrom's grand-scaled Donna Anna and Alex Esposito's all-too-human Leporello. Also extremely worthwhile are Elizabeth Watt's perky Zerlina, Dawid Kimberg's easily manipulated Masetto and Antonio Poli's sweet-toned Ottavio, while Alexander Tsymbalyuk makes a sonorous Commendatore. Conductor Nicola Luisotti is a flexible exponent of the score, ensuring that musical standards match the dramatic ones. " (The Stage)
CastMariusz Kwiecien (Don Giovanni)Alex Esposito (Leporello)Malin Byström (Donna Anna)Véronique Gens (Donna Elvira)Antonio Poli (Don Ottavio)Elizabeth Watts (Zerlina)Dawid Kimberg (Masetto)Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Commendatore)
Orchestra & Chorus of the Royal Opera House; Nicola LuisottiStage Director: Kasper HoltenTelevision Director: Jonathan HaswellChoreographer: Signe Fabricius
Catalogue Number: OA1145DDate of Performance: 2014Running Time: 187 minutesSound: LPCM & DTS Master Audio 5.1Aspect Ratio: 16:9 AnamorphicSubtitles: EN, FR, DE, JP, KOLabel: Opus Arte
It is original,thought provoking and well-executed. --Gramophone,Dec'14
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This production is nothing more than a load of old tripe, past its used by date, badly prepared and served up on take it or leave it basis. Not good enough ROH.
The set is a complex revolving arrangement of boxes, compartments, doors and staircases that place us directly in the mind of Don Giovanni. Lighting, colour and projections reflect mood, character and situation. The attention to the staging is strong, as it often is with Kasper Holten and in the capable hands of Es Devlin, but as with other Holten productions I've seen (Die Tote Stadt, Eugene Onegin), while the spectacle is fully expressive of the music, Holten is not so strong directing singers as actors. All of them are a little bit stiff here and tend to feel like they are going through the motions. By the end of the work, Don Giovanni is shown trapped in a madness of his own creation, but the libretto doesn't really support this idea and it makes the staging of it a little awkward. The problem is that there's not much sense in the direction of a building crisis to what finally drives Don Giovanni over the edge and, unfortunately, the cast aren't quite strong enough to make it work either.
The lack of fire (no pun intended on how the finale is delivered) in the performances is also there unfortunately in the singing. There's a good cast here and they are all very capable in the roles, but with perhaps one exception, there's not much that really stands out and impresses. Mariusz Kwiecień has the looks and the voice for Don Giovanni, and the experience (this performance is his 100th in the role he tells us in the BD extra features), but he doesn't have the necessary charm or charisma to fully inhabit or bring something personal to the role. I've seen Alex Esposito play Leporello a couple of times, and like his Papageno, these Mozart roles suit his style, voice and personality well - more so I think that his otherwise fine work as a Rossini bass. He has a way of getting to the underlying humanity of the characters beneath their comic exteriors. His key aria, 'Madamina, il catalogo è questo' is good, but it's not particularly well directed and as a consequence lacks impact.
The same can be said of Malin Byström's Donna Anna. She has character and a good voice, but she's not supported elsewhere. Her aria 'Or sai chi l'onore' for example is well sung, but with Luisotti holding the orchestra back from emphasising those emotional high points, it just doesn't hit home the way it should. Véronique Gens is the one notable exception to the casting here. She has a great voice for baroque opera and opera seria and has everything that is required for a substantial role like Donna Elvira. She stands out so far above everyone else here however and is in such a different league that she's almost miscast for this production. Nicola Luisotti must take some of the blame for the lack of drive in an uninspiring musical performance that sails along smoothly with little sense of the dynamic or the darkness that underlies Mozart's score. The fortepiano recitative doesn't enliven matters at all either, but some of the sense of drama is restored by the conclusion, even if the actual staging lets it down here.
On Blu-ray, the High Definition presentation of the performance is superb. Although the stage is mostly in darkness to allow the projections to be effective, the image is clear and detailed. The stereo and surround mixes bring out the colour of the music and singing. The Introduction in the extra features gives a good overview of the production, and there's a little more consideration of the nature of Don Giovanni's women and how Mozart writes for them in another featurette. Kasper Holten and Es Devlin also provide a full-length commentary for the opera. The enclosed booklet has a good essay by William Richmond on the changing faces of Don Juan in literature and film over the ages. The Blu-ray is region-free, with subtitles in English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.
Another reviewer has remarked that this performance is somewhat lightweight. I agree with that comment but, for me, this is one of the attractions of this performance. The orchestral forces are modest and the cast do not have to “go for it” in order to make their presence felt. You don’t have to drive this piece too hard for it to be effective. It is an opera by Mozart, not Wagner or Verdi.
But what really attracts me to this performance is that, for once, the production itself gives us a new insight into this great opera. So often a producer will impose ideas or interpretations upon an opera with total disregard of the music, the libretto, or both. I seriously wonder whether many producers actually listen to the operas they purport to produce.
Kaspar Holten has clearly listened to this opera, and thought about it. And perhaps the main beneficiary is Donna Anna. In this production, Don Giovanni’s seduction of Anna has been totally successful. Her protestations are merely play-acting, playing the part of the virtuous fiancée of the dull Don Ottavio whilst reeling with excitement after her first night of real passion. She can’t keep her hands of him. And Mozart’s nervous and excitable music fully supports this interpretation. This re-think pays dividends later in Act One. In her aria Or sai chi l’onore, and the recitative which proceeds it, Anna suddenly recognizes that Don Giovanni, her husband’s friend, is her would-be seducer. I have never seen or heard a performance which makes that unlikely scenario remotely convincing. In this production, however, Donna Elvira’s appearance in the previous quartet brings home to Donna Anna the horrible realization that she is not Giovanni’s only beloved. There are others – perhaps many others. Or sai chi l’onore thus becomes an expression of wild jealously and despair – wholly convincing to this viewer, at any rate.
In this production, Don Giovanni is a seducer, not a brutal and arrogant thug. So many interpretations of this role leave you wondering what any woman would see in such a violent bully. But you can see why they fall for this Giovanni! In his fight with the Commendatore, Giovanni is unarmed – it is almost an act of self-defence.
The role of Leporello, superbly performed by Alex Esposito, is played totally straight. And why not – is Leporello really a comic role? Most performers ham the role up with lots of tiresome comic business. Esposito doesn’t do that, and the role is all the more engaging and moving because of it. The Zerlina of Elizabeth Watts draws the strongest possible contrast between her two arias, both pleas for forgiveness from her bridegroom Masetto. Her Batti, batti is supremely seductive but also exploitative, obviously playing upon some S & M streak in her lover’s sexual make up. But her Vedrai carino is deeply and genuinely remorseful, and all the more moving for being so.
Not a high-octane performance, then, but a thoughtful and deeply involving performance. A Don Giovanni for grown-ups.