DramaOperaReviewSouth West

Don Giovanni – Bristol Hippodrome

Director: Caroline Chaney

Designer:  John Napier

Conductor: James Southall

Reviewer: Julia Beasley

Sexual harassment allegations are not a modern phenomenon, as Mozart’s big-beast opera shows. The antics of the sex-addicted Don are an abuse of power: the women need to be heard and justice needs to be done.  The drama lies in how and when this will happen.

Since its first performance in Prague in 1787, Don Giovanni has always been in fashion and is one of the most frequently performed operas in the world. Whilst the Don has sometimes been portrayed as a libertine and seducer who just does what men do, this latest magnificent production recognises him as a bully and a sociopath. 

In the first scene, there is a rape and a murder. The Don then tried to seduce and rape a peasant girl on her wedding day. He steals his faithful servant’s girlfriend. He mocks his wife. He is amoral and will do anything to satisfy his gross appetites. No woman is safe, nor any man who stands up to him. His peers are appalled. Even the dead are moved to intervene.

This is an intelligently directed production, endlessly fluid and expressive. With the exception of a stolid set piece madrigal at the end, the characters don’t just sing beautifully, they act and interact, with the effect that the visual spectacle is an enchanting as the musical feast.

The booming baritones of the Don and his servant Leporello (Gavan Ring and David Stout) are counterpointed by a trio of strong women who demonstrate what love really is. Donna Elvira (Elizabeth Watts) is the Don’s spurned yet pitifully faithful wife, resplendent in lace and mantilla. Zerlina (Katie Bray) as the sensuous peasant bride gets as close to having sex onstage as you could expect from an opera.  Donna Anna (Emily Birsan) is the virtuous noblewoman who vows to bring Giovanni to account for his past crimes.

The biggest presence of all is the set and lighting design, a dark and glistening configuration of massive wooden panels that define the action. These are covered with carvings of writhing human shapes emerging from the darkness, suggesting both the visceral nature of sexual passion and the mortal fear of damnation.

In this baroque ornate set, complete with moving statues and headless angels, we see a graphic portrayal of physical and emotional suffering.  Despite some light-hearted comic scenes, the overall tone is deliciously bold, gothic and supernatural.

It’s no spoiler to reveal that Don Giovanni does get his comeuppance. Having arrogantly invited the statue of the murdered Commendatore, Donna Anna’s father, to dinner, the Don is pulled into hell by the statue. He ends up as a statue himself, petrified in a ghastly pose, finally harmless to normal society. It’s a fitting end for one of the biggest sexual predators the theatre has ever witnessed. If only real life was so satisfying simple…

Reviewed on 12 April 2018 | Image: Contributed

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