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Don Giovanni – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Music: Wofgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte

Director: Sir Thomas Allen

Conductor: Speranza Scappucci

Reviewer: Val Baskott

[rating 3.5]

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 13.50.15There’s a disappointing lack of intention about Scottish Opera’s new joint production with Boston Lyric Opera of Mozart’s complex Don Giovanni. There’s a general clunkiness and discontinuity, which is not wholly redeemed by some sterling vocal performances and sonorousombramusic.

Don Giovanni, libertine and rake is a serial seducer, one of his seductions (Donna Anna), goes wrong when he kills her father the Commendatore. She vows vengeance with her betrothed Don Ottavio. They join forces with Donna Elvira, another avenger betrayed by the Don, but she also wishes his reform and redemption. Leporello is the Don’s servant, part buddy, part bullied accomplice who catalogues the conquests. Peasant newly-weds Zerlina and Masetto are drawn in to the Don’s debauchery plans, which are foiled as the second attempt on Zerlina’s virtue is discovered by the denouncing avengers. Escaping spectacularly, the Don continues with even wilder escapades, with Leporello in disguise deceiving the faltering Donna Elvira, and Don Giovanni evades pursuit, beating up the unfortunate Masetto in the way. Divine retribution is at hand. From beyond the grave the ghostly Commendatore comes to dine and drags Don Giovanni to Hell leaving the other protagonists to reflect on the Don’s influence and to plan a better future without him.

Director Sir Thomas Allen, himself a leading exponent of the rôle, has chosen a traditional approach, clearly influenced by his enthusiasm for the librettist Da Ponte and his Venetian and Casanova connections. So far so good, but Simon Higlett’s design, while magnificently portraying Venetian alleyways and architectural detail, coupled with Mark Jonathan’s shadowy lighting almost overwhelms the action. We know we are in Venice during the overture when a masked Commedia figure invites us to watch. Do we need a gondola or two as well? Distracting extras. Large sets need motorised movement and this proved intrusive. Did we need to see an embalmed Commendatore to explain Donna Anna’s commitment to vengeance? The whole staging was an argument for less is more, even though the details were lovely.

Speranza Scappucci delivered a journeyman performance from the orchestra, with good balance with the singers. There was sonority in theombrapassages but they could have sparkled a little more in the lighter passages to give more contrast. Vocally Jacques Imbrailo shows promise as Don Giovanni, excelling in the Serenade and giving a sense of bravura to the final scene. Peter Kalman’s Leporello was bluff and cheerful, but much more could be made of the equivocal relationship between him and the Don. Lisa Milne’s Donna Elvira could be even stronger in defining the contrast between pity and revenge. Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson’s Zerlina is flirty but honourable, teasing with Barnaby Rea’s solid artisan Masetto. Vocal honours must go to Anita Watson’s Donna Anna, a substantial performance much more than a stand in for the indisposed Susan Gritton, and Ed Lyon’s Don Ottavio who had character as well as vocal agility.

Overall not memorable.

Runs untilNovember 23 2013

Image courtesy of Scottish Opera

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