Some baggage, but great singing in Gothenburg Opera’s Don Giovanni

SwedenSweden Mozart, Don Giovanni: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Gothenburg Opera / Ville Matvejeff (conductor). Gothenburg Opera main stage, 2.12.2023. (NS)

Don Giovanni (Palle Knudsen) Zerlina (Mia Karlsson) and Masetto (Kristian Lindroos) © Lennart Sjöberg

Direction (original production) – John Fulljames
Director (revival production) – Aylin Bozok
Set design – Dick Bird
Costume design – Annemarie Woods
Choreography – Maxine Braham
Lighting design – Fabiana Piccioli
Assistant Lighting designer – Neill Brinkworth
Video design – Will Duke

Don Giovanni – Palle Knudsen
Commendatore – Mats Almgren
Donna Anna – Ida Falk Winland
Don Ottavio – Vassilis Kavayas
Donna Elvira – Katarina Karnéus
Leporello – Markus Schwartz
Masetto – Kristian Lindroos
Zerlina – Mia Karlsson

Gothenburg Opera’s new Don Giovanni is a co-production (with the Greek National Opera and The Royal Theatre, Copenhagen) and was performed in Copenhagen last year. Director John Fulljames has set the story in a luxury hotel in our own time. Don Giovanni himself has packed his bags and travelled from Copenhagen in the person of Palle Knudsen, but the rest of the cast are mainly regular soloists of Gothenburg Opera.

Setting Don Giovanni in a hotel works well as a comment on the transience of the title character’s relationships, but in this case the execution could be improved. Fabiana Piccioli’s lighting was often rather hard and spotlit, with the characters casting distracting shadows as they moved about the stage. The set often felt low-ceilinged and may have made it difficult for the singers to project their voices. But when it was opened up for Don Giovanni’s debauched party at the end of Act I, the effect was impressive, together with Will Duke’s stunning backdrop of fireworks.

The costumes of Annemarie Woods were generally elegant, above all Don Giovanni’s superb suits. Fulljames sometimes seemed to see the female characters from Don Giovanni’s demeaning perspective, but his humour could also be on point; the hotel staff were amusing caricatures and putting Don Ottavio in drag when he, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira infiltrate Don Giovanni’s party was good fun. Ville Matvejeff’s conducting was light-touch and sensitive to the singers.

Mats Almgren was a chilling Commendatore – especially in the second act scene where Don Giovanni’s and Leporello’s encounter with the dead man’s statue takes place inside a meat store. The final scene was impressive both scenically and vocally with Almgren well-matched with Palle Knudsen’s Don Giovanni. Kristian Lindroos was a warm-blooded Masetto, perfectly capturing his character’s mixture of jealousy and love for Zerlina with an attractive and expressive baritone.

The Commendatore (Mats Almgren, left) and Don Giovanni (Palle Knudsen) © Lennart Sjöberg

Mia Karlsson brought both a lovely soubrette soprano and great acting to the role of Zerlina. She was particularly special in her duets both with Don Giovanni and with Masetto. Vassilis Kavayas gave Don Ottavio a lovely lyric tenor, best when expressing his love and devotion for Donna Anna. John Fulljames seemed to make Don Ottavio a bit of a fop but Kavayas carried that easily with good humour and good acting.

Ida Falk Winland’s Donna Anna was gripping, above all in a fiery ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ after recognizing Don Giovanni as the man who killed her father. Her soprano had a terrific ping and her acting was utterly convincing as Donna Anna worked through terrible grief and thirst for vengeance. Katarina Karnéus had a terrific stage presence as Donna Elvira and an expressive voice, not afraid to be open to her character’s vulnerability. Sadly her role was rather truncated by ‘Mi tradi’ being cut, leaving Donna Elvira a less impressive character than she should be.

Markus Schwartz had full rein for his great comic talents as Leporello, engaging in a great deal of physical comedy. His agile baritone shone particularly in his many recitatives but also in the Catalogue aria. Palle Knudsen was superb as Don Giovanni, every inch the player with his tailoring, his mannerisms and his seductive baritone. He was always a joy to listen to but was particularly outstanding in a wonderful ‘Là ci darem la mano’ with Mia Karlsson’s Zerlina. Knudsen’s ability to be spellbindingly seductive heightened the contrast when he showed the violent and arrogant facets of Don Giovanni’s personality.

While there were some disappointments for me in the staging this was well compensated for by the superb cast.

Niklas Smith

Playing until 11 February 2024. Almost all performances in January and February have an alternative cast with Hannes Öberg as Don Giovanni, Susanna Stern as Donna Anna, Viktor Johansson as Don Ottavio, Ann-Kristin Jones as Donna Elvira and Sofie Asplund as Zerlina. For tickets and exact dates for the two casts see the Gothenburg Opera website.

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