Great flames, witty continuo, excellent Masetto, good Elvira and Don – shame about the direction – or rather, lack thereof – not to mention the set, the orchestral pacing and much of the singing and acting. I did not care for this Royal Opera production of Don Giovanni the first time around, particularly disliking the intrusive and pointless sliding about of the glass block ‘wall’ and the daft ‘moving finger’ which resembled a bejewelled triffid from much of the house, but most of all feeling the lack of any meaningful personenregie. This time, that last problem reached epic proportions, with poor Elvira abandoned to emote and the Don pretty much left to his own resources.
No wonder the poor fellow trod on a few trains and came in a tad early with ‘La ci darem’ – he probably wanted to get the whole thing over with. Ironically, that duet was the best singing of the evening, with Gerald Finley’s Don oleaginous enough to persuade a dim peasant lass to abandon herself, his acting as seductive as his phrasing was eloquently musical. Irini Kyriakidou’s Zerlina sang her part sweetly too, although elsewhere she was not much more than serviceable.
That term applied to much of the singing, including Hibla Gerzmava’s Donna Anna and Matthew Polenzani’s Don Ottavio, who did his best to make something of the character but whose vocal resources were not quite up to ‘Dalla sua Pace.’ Finley’s Don, like the others who have gone before him in this production, was thwarted by lack of direction, as was Katarina Karnus’ very well sung Elvira – Karnus has considerable stage experience, however, and she made the best of it.
Adam Plachetka revealed a sonorous bass-baritone as Masetto and was one of the few singers onstage whom I want to hear again; he will sing Figaro at Glyndebourne, which in itself tells you that this debut was one to note. I don’t know what Lorenzo Regazzo is doing on the stage at the ROH, since his Leporello was lacklustre in both singing and characterization – like most of the cast, he needed direction.
The conductor in 2002 was Charles Mackerras, of whom one might sometimes say that he drove the music along so that the singers struggled keep up, but if a contrast to that style was wanted, Constantinos Carydis was going too far. To say that the tempi for such joyful scenes as ‘Giovinette che fate all’amore’ and ‘Finch’ hal dal Vino’ would have been a better match for the death march from ‘Saul’ may sound like an exaggeration, but I have genuinely heard more lively funeral processions. Mozart believed that opera buffa should be really comic – apart from Mark Packwood’s acerbic fortepiano, not much was comic here. The flames were hot ‘n’ sizzling of course, but not much else sparkled, either onstage or in the pit.