Scents and Sensibility
Don Giovanni; Ossia Il Dissoluto Punito, opera buffa in two acts, music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, a further revival of the 2014 production, conducted by Hartmut Haenchen, directed by Kasper Holten, Royal Opera, Monday 16th September 2019, reviewed by Leslie Jones
Don Giovanni, played by bass-baritone Erwin Schrott, suitably demonic and over-powering, wants sex with as many women as possible. His appetite is somewhat indiscriminate, as his conquests (1000 in Spain alone) range from the young to the old, from the rich to the poor, from the fat to the thin. “Leave the women alone?”, he asks Leporello, rhetorically, “You’re mad! You know they are more necessary to me than the bread I eat! Than the air I breathe!” This compulsion, sometimes called satyriasis or Don Juanism, lends itself to a psycho-analytic interpretation. Indeed, according to Freud’s biographer Ernest Jones, Don Giovanni was his favourite opera. Freud doubtless considered the killing of the Commendatore, Donna Anna’s father (performed by Brindley Sherratt) as evidence of the Oedipus Complex. And there are voyeuristic elements evocative of the “primal scene”, as when Masetto, en catimini, spies on his fiancé and Don Giovanni.
Yet Mozart’s dramma giocoso, which combines elements of tragedy and farce, is as much about power and class as it is about sex. It has been suggested that “Don Giovanni’s privilege, wealth and status enable much of his behaviour” (‘Introducing Don Giovanni’, Rogue Opera). In opera buffa, moreover, “Characters sing in musical styles appropriate to their social standing”. Seria is exclusively reserved for aristocratic characters like Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, in this instance sopranos Malin Byström and Myrtò Papatanasiu (see Jessica Waldoff, ‘A Musical Portrait’, Official Programme).
Zerlina (feisty soprano Louise Alder) is about to be married to Mazetta but the Don persuades her that by marrying him instead, she can transform her life. He surmises that a nobleman’s clothes impress people of her class and considers her fiancé an oaf, who is unworthy of her. On another occasion, the hapless Masetto (played by Leon Košavić) is called a “…stupid, dog-faced peasant”. Manservant Leporello (bass Roberto Tagliavini, making an impressive Royal Opera debut) has aspirations to be independent and rise in the social hierarchy. The top hat which he carries for his master and sometimes puts on, is emblematic.
Credit is due to the set designer, Es Devlin, for his revolving mansion; to the video designer, Luke Halls, and to the lighting and costume designers, Bruno Poet and Anja Vang Kragh, respectively. The tiered set is striking as were the silhouettes of the masqueraders at the ball.
In the event, good triumphs over evil in a denouement reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s film Scarface. The Don’s vengeful victims – Donna Elvira, Leporello, Masetto, Donna Anna (evidently raped in her own home), her fiancé Don Ottavio and the ghost of her father, the Commendatore, witness his cumuppance.