The destructive allure of Don Giovanni

As the Royal Opera opens its new Don Giovanni, Jessica Duchen argues that its theme of moral vacuity is as relevant now as in Mozart's day

Here is an existential matter to chew on at the opera: why are we women so often attracted to men who are total, utter bastards? That question has been tackled in innumerable books, films and more – classic material for mass-selling bonkbusters, the exploits of James Bond and, of course, Fifty Shades of Grey.

But the man who seduces, rapes or maltreats the women in his life – and he is usually powerful and rich– is not just a mythic archetype. He is all too real and he is here with us right here, right now. Politicians, pop stars, footballers, a president or two, even the occasional conductor – it seems they're at it left, right and centre.

As the Royal Opera House prepares to unveil a new staging of Mozart's darkest opera, Don Giovanni, its serial-seducer antihero seems almost ridiculously relevant. The fast-living aristocrat rapes Donna Anna, emotionally tortures Donna Elvira and seduces the peasant girl Zerlina on her wedding day – all this within 24 hours. His undoing begins when he is challenged by the Commendatore, Anna's father, and kills him.

The Don is sung in Kasper Holten's new production by the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien. "A character like Don Giovanni could exist in every era – 500 years ago, 200 years ago, now and in the future," he says. "A certain number of people always become addicted to money, drugs, fame, partying, all these crazy things, and just lose themselves in this kind of behaviour."

That life is fatal for Don Giovanni – and it rings true: "Think of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse," adds Kwiecien. "It's the people who are not strong enough to say no, enough, let's stay on the brighter side of this world. The darkness always seduces people, and if you have money, power and fame it's easier to let it."

Finally, Giovanni gets a grisly comeuppance: he must face retribution from the ghost of the man he murdered in scene one. He seems to deserve his fate – yet one rarely leaves the theatre without a frisson of sympathy for the dead and damned Don. That sympathy can still be perplexing. Why on earth do we care about this man?

It's not over till the fat lady sings – quietly: Maestro wants volume turned down on Mozart - as the composer intended  

Perhaps the key is the opera's edgy libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte – who some say took advice about the Don's character from Casanova himself. It allowed Mozart to create a cast of thoroughly believable individuals, none of whom is all good or all bad. For instance, the sheer chutzpah of Giovanni's twisted logic can prove oddly irresistible as he explains to his sidekick, Leporello, that to be faithful to one woman would mean being unfaithful to all the others. He also sings one of the most gorgeous arias ever given to an operatic baritone, a serenade addressed to the unfortunate Donna Elvira's maid.

Gerald Finley is one of today's most sought-after Giovannis. "I think we're always fascinated by people who are doing extraordinary things, perhaps beyond our own moral range," he comments, "and in seeing perhaps things that only feature in our dreams sometimes playing out in other people's lives. And to see this character incarnated on stage, put together by Da Ponte and Mozart, combines all those issues."

The darkness wins as the Commendatore drags Giovanni away to hell. But Kwiecien takes a pragmatic view of why we still can't help loving that man. "Good is boring," he says. "Bad is much more interesting."

'Don Giovanni', Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000) 1 to 24 February

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all