We got to see Kasper Holten’s new Don Giovanni from the Royal Opera House in Toronto yesterday. It wasn’t live but I really don’t think that matters. I’m not going to dwell too much on production or performance because it’s already been extensively reviewed elsewhere. I concur with the general tenor of the reviews that the singing and acting is extremely strong. Certainly Holten got a more intense performance out of Mariusz Kwiecien than Michael Grandage did at the Met and Veronique Gens was a very fine Donna Elvira. There really weren’t any weak links.
The production is basically built around a rotating multi-room “house” and there are lots of video projections including, notably, 2065 female first names during the overture. Costumes are eclectic with the women in big skirts with, in Donna Elvira’s case, writing on it. The men look they have stepped out of an amateur dramatic society production of something by Dickens. I thought Act 1 was a visual mess but that things improved quite a lot after the interval. The controversial cut in the final scene where we go straight from Don G’s death to his eternal condemnation without the big ensemble about the other characters’ futures made sense in the context. Whether I would have got it without Holten’s explanation I don’t know. It’s one of those productions that I think one would have to see more than once to fully unwrap. I expect there will be a DVD.
So how was it as a cinema broadcast? I thought it was pretty good and a marked improvement on recent Met experiences. First, and most importantly, the camera work was less fussy. I’ve noted before how hard it is to film a production with a lot of video projections but here the video direction (was it Jonathan Haswell? I can’t find a credit on the web site) was pretty decent though, inevitably, one missed quite a lot of the background visuals. The overall presentation, too, seemed more human and less corporate than the Met. Time was when the Met broadcasts used presenters like Nathalie Dessay who might stray off script. Nowadays it’s all very scripted with obligatory obeisance to their sponsors etc. By contrast, Bryn Terfel at the ROH seemed quite informal and his conversation with Kasper Holten didn’t seem to be scripted. All in all, I much preferred it to the Met product.
For Toronto people there’s the added advantage that Bloor Hot Docs is one of the most comfortable cinemas in town with great sound. These ROH performances are only $15 too. Quite a bit less than the Met. I guess word hasn’t got out though (or, as so often, the Toronto audience is oblivious to anything not from New York) because it wasn’t particularly well attended. That’s a shame. It’s a pretty decent product and I’ll be going back. maybe not for Turandot but certainly for Les Vêpres Siciliennes.