The Royal Opera returns with a double bill to thrill


Special To The Japan Times

Lovers of classical music can diffuse summer’s heat with some ghostly relief, as The Royal Opera makes its first visit to Japan since 2010 — this time with the spectral pairing of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth” and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

The two productions have triumphed at the company’s Royal Opera House home in London’s Covent Garden, and on tour abroad — and the same surely awaits them here, with Sir Antonio Pappano, The Royal Opera’s music director, conducting both.

According to the company’s 42-year-old director of opera, Danish-born Kaspar Holten — who also directs “Don Giovanni” — this tour aims to showcase the company he has led since 2011.

“We wanted to display a breadth of our work, and we thought these two productions — with star casting — would be interesting for Japanese audiences,” he said. Also, he pointed out that the 2002 production of “Macbeth” by Phyllida Lloyd being staged this time, “draws some inspiration from Japanese theater and aesthetics.”

As well, Holten’s take on “Don Giovanni” — with Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo in the title role, Italian bass Alex Esposito as Leporello and American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Elvira — shows, he said, “how we can use technology to tell the classic stories in new ways, using projections that interact with the set throughout the show.”

Meanwhile “Macbeth,” based on Shakespeare’s tragedy of ambition and supernatural temptation, premiered in 1847, although Lloyd’s version follows his more intense 1865 revision, with its chorus of witches and the melodic horror of Banquo’s ghost. And as in its 2011 revival at Covent Garden, British baritone Simon Keenlyside sings the title role, with Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska as Lady Macbeth, Greek tenor Dimitri Pittas as Macduff and American bass Raymond Aceto as Banquo.

“Of course ‘Macbeth’ very much captures your imagination,” Holten said, “and it’s a relevant story to tell again today.

“How many people are driven by the thirst for power in itself — rather than considering what it could be used to achieve — is something that’s very relevant today. And to see that our thirst for power can come at a high price and produce many ghosts that won’t let you go, is shown clearly in this production.”

Similarly, Holten believes that although it premiered way back in 1787, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” — of which he directed a film version, titled “Juan,” in 2010 — “speaks very much to us today.”

Centered on a fictional rake whose string of seductions comes up against a supernatural power when he accidentally kills a man and is pursued by his ghost, “Don Giovanni” is, Holten said, “not just a story of a womanizer, but a story about the human condition, which we know so well today: restlessness, ambition, being afraid of missing out and wanting to have it all.

“I recognize in Don Giovanni himself a beautiful appetite for life, but also how terribly destructive this force can be when it knows no boundaries, and when it is not controlled.”

And finally, while declaring, “I don’t think opera has ever been appreciated by as many people as now around the world,” Holten added, “I can’t wait to see how the Japanese audiences react to our work, and I hope they will bring curiosity and passion to the performances.”

“Macbeth” plays Sept. 12, 15, 18 and 21 at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan. “Don Giovanni” plays Sept. 13, 17 and 20 at NHK Hall in Tokyo, and Sept. 23 Sept. at Hyogo Performing Arts Center in Nishinomiya. On Sept. 19 at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, Antonio Pappano will conduct Mozart’s “Requiem” and various Mozart concert arias performed by Royal Opera soloists. For details, visit