Review: Don Giovanni, Royal Opera House

Mozart’s Don Giovanni first premiered in Prague in 1787. With libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, it tells the story of the walking STI that is Don Giovanni (Erwin Schott). Giovanni is somehow Spain’s most eligible bachelor, and apparently has seduced and slept with pretty much every woman he’s ever met. From maids to baronesses, young to old (although his “favourite” is the “young beginner” – VOM), he’s slept with thousands of women across Europe, and keeps a lovely little list of names which he categorises by country – how organised of him. It’s no surprise then that his boring machismo and wandering eye, and wandering something else, eventually get him into serious trouble. We watch that trouble unfold for three hours, before he’s eventually and rightfully dragged into hell.

I have been to the opera just once before, when I reviewed La Traviata a couple of years ago, so I am by no means claiming to be an expert. Bear in mind that this is the opinion of a total novice: but it’s bloody boring. Can I appreciate the years of training put in and the immense skill and talent that the performers must possess to be able to sing like that? Of course I can. Do I not enjoy the beautiful music performed flawlessly by the orchestra led by Hartmut Haenchen? Yes, in fact it was my favourite part. But sadly, the rest of it just isn’t my cup of tea. Perhaps it’s just my little underdeveloped brain that really can’t take three hours of women threatening to faint and men threatening to stab someone in Italian, but it’s far too drawn out for me.  

I think a large part of why I’m underwhelmed by Kasper Holten’s production is the understated set and costume design by Es Devlin and Anja Vang Kragh. If you think of opera, you think of tradition, luxury, opulence, no? So, for me, the costumes that seem to be traditionally cut, but in modern fabrics and patterns, are unexciting. Same goes for Devlin’s set, which consists of a giant white cubic maze of doors and stairs, which rotates and is used as a blank canvas for projections by Luke Halls. There is a motif that runs throughout: Don Giovanni’s handwritten lists of the women he’s seduced, and the ink splatters that he might’ve created while doing so. These are projected onto the walls and printed onto the clothes of the people he touches, but besides this, everything is plain. There are no velvet drapes, no magnificently detailed sets, and I feel a bit cheated. A lot of the show is the spectacle, and for me, it’s seriously lacking.

I feel as though there is a certain pressure to enjoy these highbrow shows, and certainly not to admit it if you don’t, but unfortunately Don Giovanni just isn’t for me. I often ask myself; would I be happy had I spent my own money on a ticket for this show? At £180 a pop, I can’t say that I would.

Don Giovanni is playing the Royal Opera House until 10 October. For more information and tickets, visit the Royal Opera House website.