Don Giovanni is, among the Mozart-Da Ponte operas, the one with the greatest psychological depth, where the most disturbing themes are explored: sex (of course), freedom, agency. In Ola Anders Tandberg’s production for the Royal Swedish Opera, this exploration begins in the bathrooms of (probably) some sort of nightclub and ends in the bowels of the earth. Tandberg’s sets are bleak, empty, dirty, unwelcoming. Everything is in black and white: the only splash of colour in the first act is the Commendatore’s blood on the tiles. The final scene, Don Giovanni’s supper, is depicted as a fast-food picnic on a dirty blanket in a dismal, filthy underground cave.

Jeremy Carpenter (Don Giovanni) and Vivianne Holmberg (Donna Anna) © Hedda Axelsson
Jeremy Carpenter (Don Giovanni) and Vivianne Holmberg (Donna Anna)
© Hedda Axelsson

Don Giovanni himself is unhinged, more mentally unstable than charmingly wild. His servant Leporello constantly films his escapades with a camera, whose images are projected (in black and white) on the upper part of the stage; this serves well the purpose of making Leporello and the Don act and move with unity of purpose, albeit a device that is becoming a overused in the opera world.

The action was moved to modern times, and the crucial conundrum of the plot (what happened between Don Giovanni and Donna Anna before the curtain rises?) was solved as in a male chauvinist’s wet dream: they made passionate love in one of the toilet stalls, and then she accused him of rape because he wasn't interested in her afterwards. This, despite perpetrating one of the most vicious among the many rape myths, did give some consistency to the events and the telling of the story.

Ola Eliasson was a credible Don Giovanni, representing his madness and obsession with clarity. In Tandberg’s view, Giovanni is a weak character, easily scared, uncomfortable around weapons – he kills the Commendatore almost by mistake, in self defence. Eliasson’s interpretation was committed and emotional. His warm baritone was elegant and well set, although it lacked agility (all the little roulades in “Fin ch’han dal vino” were lost) and, at times, projection. Markus Schwartz’s bass-baritone was powerful but measured, very suited to Leporello, who turned out to be much more than Don Giovanni’s sidekick. The two of them were tightly connected and showed great chemistry, especially in the comic scenes.

Vivianne Holmberg, Klas Hedlund, Jeremy Carpenter, Johanna Rudström, Jens Persson, Sofie Asplund © Hedda Axelsson
Vivianne Holmberg, Klas Hedlund, Jeremy Carpenter, Johanna Rudström, Jens Persson, Sofie Asplund
© Hedda Axelsson

Vivianne Holmberg’s soprano seemed a bit too monochrome for Donna Anna, and she struggled in the coloratura at the end of her great aria “Non mi dir”. Nevertheless, her performance was overall enjoyable. The character of Donna Elvira was successfully turned into a nerdy but sexy librarian type, with her hair in a prudish bun and thick black glasses. Joanna Rudström was very believable in her interpretation; her powerful, well supported mezzo audible through the ensembles. The part might be a little high for her, her high notes at times became strained and a little too edgy. Her (real-life) pregnancy was used to dramatic effect, hidden in her coat for the whole show, and revealed in a coup de théâtre at the end, when Elvira barges in during the Don’s banquet and undresses in an attempt to seduce him and bring him to his responsibilities.

Kungliga Operan’s veteran Klas Hedlund sang the role of Don Ottavio; I have had the pleasure to listen to his powerful tenor many times, but honestly, I was not ready for his “Il mio tesoro”. He showed remarkable breathing technique and his coloratura was absolutely on point. The colour of the voice might not be Mozartian, the high notes a little pushed at times, but he managed to phrase with elegance and style.

Lennart Forsén (Commendatore), Jeremy Carpenter (Don Giovanni) and Markus Schwartz (Leporello) © Hedda Axelsson
Lennart Forsén (Commendatore), Jeremy Carpenter (Don Giovanni) and Markus Schwartz (Leporello)
© Hedda Axelsson

Zerlina wore a trashy mini-skirt wedding dress, with sparkling high-heels boots, while Masetto was in a tasteful tuxedo. The whole chorus at their wedding was composed of wedding couples, who were hiding for quickies in the toilet stalls. The atmosphere was very high-school musical. Sofie Asplund, as Zerlina, had one of the most beautiful voices of the evening, high and bright, delightfully easy on top. Jens Persson’s smooth lyric baritone is probably a bit too high for the role of Masetto, and he tended to get drowned in the orchestra in his lower register, even if his singing and acting were enjoyable.

The Royal Swedish Orchestra, under the baton of Dalia Stasevska, produced a vast palette of dynamics, in a very nuanced performance. She managed often to find a tender, soft sound to underline the more lyrical moments, such as the opening of “Dalla sua pace”, which was ravishing. The musicians involved on stage – playing at Don Giovanni’s party at the end of Act 1, or during his supper in the finale – were effective in their acting as well as in the musical performance, contributing to the fun.

***11