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Don Giovanni – ENO at the Coliseum, London

Music: Mozart

Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte

Director: Rufus Norris

Reviewer: Sheila Cornelius


This dazzling revival of award-winning director Rufus Norris’s visually stylish 2010 production, seems to inhabit the same barrio of Madrid where Spanish film maestro Pedro Almodóvar hangs out. Walls are whisked across the stage in a flurry that arraigns contemporary urban design and interior spaces are filled with the gaudy insincerity of heart-shaped balloons.

In Ian MacNeil’s stylish set, with interior décor apparently supplied IKEA, this is not so much a break-down of social barriers as an intrusion. When highborn targets of Don Giovanni’s insatiable sexual urges turn into clinging hysterics or compulsive revengers, Giovanni is prompted to look further down the social scale.

With the libertine’s card marked early on by a callous act of murder, episodes leading to his down-fall emphasise the farcical aspects of his pursuits. A comic highlight of the first half is the ‘list’ of Giovanni’s conquests, here a PowerPoint presentation by his side-kick Leporello, with images of women’s faces superimposed across a spread sheet.

Genevieve Ellis’s witty costumes and accessories place characters in a social context. Darren Jeffery’s Leporello is a shambling presence with lank hair and a dirty mac. A photo-journalist’s bag slung across his body, he’s a compulsive chronicler of his charismatic boss’s activities, a class traitor who catches crumbs from the rich man’s table. This is literally true in the second act, when Giovanni slings bread rolls about with all the insouciance of a Bullingdon club member.

Jeremy Sams’ liberal treatment of Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto is both witty and topical. That the gentry’s unpopularity is down to ‘plebeian slanders’ is readily picked up on by the audience, while reference to ‘Swedish au pair girls’ and rhyming purloin with sirloin in Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche style is also well received.

Katherine Broderick is outstanding as a Donna Anna and combines emotional depth with wistful hope. Ben Johnson gives good support as the well-meaning but ineffective Don Ottavio. Iain Paterson plays Don Giovanni as a defiant celebrity, as much impressed by his triumphs as puzzled by his futility. John Molloy’s Masetto provides lightweight comedy, and Sarah Tynan makes for an attractively light-hearted Zerlina, a sweetheart in a polka dot dress. Sarah Regwick’s harpy-like Elvira in red satin is convincing in the first half but less so later, when she forgives the amorous Don, only to be spurned afresh.

As Commendatore, Matthew Best’s performance lacks the usual impact which is the highlight of Act 11. Made to circle the stage like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, he later fronts a troupe of zombie look-alikes, against whose blood -soaked suits the flames of hell are made to flicker.

Edward Gardner and the orchestra present a robust account of Mozart’s darkly dramatic score. While not notably strong on lyrical arias, the opera’s melodic passages are crisply delivered. It’s to their credit that the musicians prevail despite the sometimes distracting activities onstage.

Photo: Richard Hubert-Smith

Runs until 3rd November

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