DramaOperaReviewSouth West

Don Giovanni – Theatre Royal Plymouth

Director: Jonathan Kent
Revival Director: Lloyd Wood
Reviewer: Helen Tope

A revival of the 2010 production directed by Jonathan Kent, Don Giovanni returns as part of this year’s Glyndebourne Tour.

tell-us-block_editedBased on the 14th Century nobleman Don Juan, Mozart reworks the legend into a tragi-comic opera that is startling as it is unique.

In this production, the famous womaniser, and his inevitable downfall, are transported to 1950s Italy where he has, according to his servant Leporello, worked his way around most of Europe. Don Giovanni’s notoriety precedes him, but that doesn’t stop women falling in love with him.

It’s a comic opera with a difference. Starting with Giovanni committing a cold-blooded murder, and ending with him being led to Hell by the man he killed, there’s nothing formulaic about this work. The tone swings wildly from tragedy to comedy, and the music moves from sweet seduction to mournful despair.

We meet Don Giovanni on what will become the last day of his life. Starting as he means to carry on, he brushes off former love Donna Elvira (Magdalena Molendowska) as he’s already got his eye on the Commendatore’s daughter, Donna Anna (Ana Maria Labin).

The Commendatore (Andrii Goniukov) discovers Don Giovanni, and attacks him. The younger man fights back and kills him. Pushing the trauma to the back of his mind, Giovanni moves through his day, leaving a trail of misery behind him, even going so far as to interrupt a wedding between Zerlina (Louise Alder) and her hapless husband, Masetto (Bozidar Smiljanic). Leporello (a brilliant performance from Brandon Cedel) tries to persuade his master to see the light, but Don Giovanni is unrepentant. He is a fully fledged anti-hero; charismatic and unpredictable.

Played with relish by Duncan Rock, Giovanni is the perfect foil for the complexity of Mozart’s score. With a ceaseless appetite for life and all its earthly pleasures, it’s very hard for us to really dislike Don Giovanni – as least as much as we probably should. Devoting himself to the thrill of the chase, Giovanni is flawed and changeable and these are qualities that Mozart seems to understand particularly well. It’s very tempting to read a layer of autobiography in Giovanni; his independent spirit is tempered at the very end of the opera, but it’s done with great reluctance.

In a supernatural turn of events, Giovanni invites the Commendatore to dine with him, and the dead man agrees. Giovanni is dragged to Hell where he will pay for his crimes. It’s a curiously conventional end for a hero that refuses to play fair.This is the problem with Don Giovanni: sinners may “die as they lived” as the final curtain

This is the problem with Don Giovanni: sinners may “die as they lived” as the final curtain comes down, but Giovanni’s free-wheeling spirit is hard to suppress. To a modern audience, much of Giovanni’s attitude to life and love is recognisable and forgivable. He’s no villain – he’s the lead in Mozart’s morality tale and Mozart doesn’t even believe it himself. Don Giovanni was written two years before the French Revolution, and desire for change was already being felt across Europe. Mozart could not have failed to pick up on it.

It is this anti-establishment movement that is really the story of Don Giovanni. Yes, the good end happily and the bad unhappily, but Don Giovanni leaves you in no doubt of its true intentions. Darkly comic and uncannily familiar, there’s a streak of modernity running through Don Giovanni that’s just itching to burst through. Let the rebellion of Mozart’s music speak to you – it’s got a lot to say.

Runs until 9 December 2016 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Darkly comic

User Rating: 4.7 ( 1 votes)

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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