Don Giovanni, written in 1787, is the third of Mozart’s five operatic masterpieces. In exquisite music, conveying the whole range of human emotions and aspirations, it tells the story of the irredeemable womaniser Don Juan.
However, Giovanni is an ambiguous figure. On the one hand, he is the aristocratic bully whose philandering derives from his male, feudal power. On the other, his licentiousness is classless in that his seduction targets are women of all classes – princesses but also maids, as his servant Leporello tells the abandoned Donna Elvira.
The three women in the opera seem to represent the main social classes of the time – Donna Anna the aristocrat, Donna Elvira the middle class woman, and Zerlina the young peasant woman.
In addition, Giovanni represents a challenge to a repressive bourgeois morality with his determination to indulge his sexual appetites. Yet his inability to commit himself and his ceaseless accumulation of conquests, conveys the way in which modern capitalism deprives most individuals of a sense of inner wholeness, driving one to seek compensation in endless consumption.
At one point, Giovanni attempts to seduce Zerlina, who has no illusions about his faithlessness, yet is attracted by his social position. Her fiance Masetto protests but Giovanni shoves him aside. However, Masetto reappears with a group of armed peasants bent on killing Giovanni. This is clearly a harbinger of the forthcoming revolution. As the characters in the ballroom scene sing, “Long Live Freedom” – “Viva La Liberta”.
It is interesting that in the opera Giovanni fails to seduce either of the two women he is chasing. Morever, in the character of Leporello, Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte have created one of their great set of rebellious servants. And towards the end, Giovanni is dragged to hell by the statue of Donna Anna’s father whom he killed early on. All these factors point to a society in decay, about to be overthrown by the “lower orders”.
This revival of Zambello’s 2002 production is lively, imaginative and witty. The “dragging to hell” scene is superbly staged. Central to the design is a large screen which is moved around so as to reveal stairs, or a balcony, in this way becoming the set for different scenes. The singing is generally admirable, with outstanding performances by Simon Keenlyside as Don Giovanni, Kyle Ketelsen as Leporello and Joyce Di Donato as Donna Elvira. The orchestra under Charles Mackerras is polished. The Royal Opera’s management took the unusual step of offering seats for £1 to readers of The Sun. There was, therefore, in part, a different kind of audience – a laudable initiative.
Directed by Francesca Zambello
Royal Opera House, London
Until 4 October