A reliance on striking visuality may be a resource that contemporary set designers use to convey narrative meanings in otherwise staid operatic works. But with Don Giovanni the challenge tends to be what elements of staging best aid the narrative flow and if a reinterpretation of the action is required to make the result more relevant to the contemporary audience.

Julia Lezhneva (Zerlina) and chorus © A. Bofill
Julia Lezhneva (Zerlina) and chorus
© A. Bofill

In interviews Kasper Holten has said that the duplex, graphically energised chiaroscuro set is a metaphor for the complex psyche of Don Giovanni. It is an interesting proposition and as a theatrical piece this production works well with the mis-en-scène, including Es Devlin’s set in slow carousel movement and Luke Halls’ mapping projection charting the fall of this sexually insatiable amnesiac.

There are sublime moments in the production, which at times can be visually overwhelming, that offer insight into the demise of the protagonist. Ghostly writing conjures itself onto every available surface, listing those unfortunates seduced by Don Giovanni in a graffiti which, while alluding to Leporello’s Catalogue aria, forms part of the permanent backdrop to the action. With “Fin ch’han dal vino” we have displayed a stunning Escheresque mapping onto the set, manuscript and stairways spiralling downward – a clear metaphor of the protagonist’s descent into the abyss, with him clutching open a first floor doorframe, a fixed stare directed at the audience, inviting us to participate in his profligate party planning. A prescient Commendatore silently enters and exits throughout the action with mysterious statuesque female figures, an obvious reference to past victims, giving us the sensation of fatality as an undercurrent.

Mariusz Kwiecień (Don Giovanni) © A. Bofill
Mariusz Kwiecień (Don Giovanni)
© A. Bofill

Don Giovanni’s last mortal day is to be lived with his usual predatory gusto and the inevitable tangles this brings, but with the dinner scene and ending converting him into a man in the state of mental breakdown where his fevered imagination takes over reality. Loneliness and madness itself is the real damnation. In the curtailed closing with the moral fugue from the pit, Holten suggests the fate of being forsaken and left alone with your paranoia is worse than hell.

The Liceu’s Orchestra has improved noticeably over recent years, with conductor Josep Pons leading the way. His conducting was tight and intense, with a clear appreciation of dynamics and musical details. The string section produced a superb velvet tone with the woodwind and brass noted for clarity, expression and quality. The chorus has a minor part in this work, but sang competently in their two brief interventions.

The voice casting was largely homogeneous and in character for this opera, with some outstanding individual performances. All concertantes were extremely well executed, precise and in tune. Clear evidence of great preparation. Don Giovanni was played by Mariusz Kwiecień, who is developing a reputation as a solid performer in the role. He worked well as a convincing actor and sang the part with both good voice projection and clear diction. He skilfully portrayed the psychological decline of the protagonist from the outset.

Simón Orfila’s Leporello was an excellent example of how to sing this part with both presence and expressive depth. He was a great complement to Kwiecień’s Don Giovanni and played the protagonist’s alter ego with aplomb. Don Ottavio by Dmitry Korchak (a former winner of the Tenor Viñas singing competition in Barcelona) was a revelation in the part, lending nobility to the role. This is one character who has always tended to be portrayed and sung as weak and effeminate, playing a clear second best for Donna Elvira. In this performance, Korchak defined the role as one of substance and lent a fine Mozartian tenor voice to the character.

Luke Halls' striking video projections © A. Bofill
Luke Halls' striking video projections
© A. Bofill

Eric Halfvarson sang the part of the Commendatore with a voice that, though maintaining some of the depth that has made him a famous Wagnerian bass, did show some signs of being a little weary, with some overly wide vibrato. It is a role that needs to vocally intimidate and this lack of solidity showed. Valeriano Lanchas’ Masetto had great characterization with a fine, strong voice for the part. He is agile for a large man (comically offsetting the petite stature of Zerlina), especially with the demands of the role requiring him to fall, jump, kneel and roll on stage whilst singing.

The female voices were led by Carmela Remigio as Donna Anna. Her repertoire includes some of the opera’s more difficult arias, which she performed excellently. Miah Persson sang Donna Elvira with customary elegance, singing with an evident musicality though with some of her higher notes sounding disagreeable. Julia Lezhneva, meanwhile, projected well as Zerlina and sang the required range competently, though with some understandable problems of diction. She interpreted the character well, making her a believable, homely bride-to-be.