Iván Fischer's 2015 outing at the EIF—of The Marriage of Figaro—was a whizzy, busy whirlwind of a performance. It's difficult to escape the impression tonight that he's trying his best to draw a contrast with that success. The stripped back staging (a "staged concert", we're told) is sparse and moody. The leads' own evening dress is casual, nonspecific. Actually, that all works fine. But, oh, the pace. This is a plodding Don Giovanni that comes alive too seldom to engage.
The odd staging is probably the best success here. Grey statuesque actors stand in for any discernable set, and the near-naked bodies drive home the hedonism of the hell Don Giovanni creates. They also provide for some fantastic imagistic moments, Leporello turning them like the pages of a book as he relates his master's conquests. Strikingly, in the Commendatore's terrifying scene, the statues move from largely passive to active, dragging the philanderer to hell. To which, Christopher Maltman is a solid lead, his sinuous lines and muscular presence proving thoroughly sinister.
But Fischer seems to aggressively clamp the brakes on the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Sometimes this works: Don Giovanni's attempt to undermine Donna Elvira ('Non ti fidar, o misera') is glacial and excrutiating. It feels like Fischer has tried to apply this theory to the whole piece, though, slowly pouring any potentially exciteable babies out with the bathwater. It's utterly disengaging, leaving us thoroughly unconcerned for the characters. The destruction that Don Giovanni leaves in his wake, the violence which drives much of the action, feels fake. There's one moment in the finale of act I where Fischer releases his tight leash. It's a peek at what this Don Giovanni might have been.