Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Lorenzo de Ponte
Director: Alessandro Talevi
Conductor: Anthony Kraus
Reviewer: Sally Cinnamon
When Don Giovanni premiered over 200 years ago in the Bohemian city of Prague, it was a smash hit. The Czechs were a bawdy lot, unlike in Mozart’s adopted city, Vienna, where his recent opera The Marriage of Figaro was coolly received by polite society.
Don Giovanni is at some odds with opera per se. The authors (the libretto by theatre poet Lorenzo de Ponte) purposefully mix and match the styles of music and of story, throwing traditional form to the wind. It’s a basic plot but which leaves a lot open to interpretation.
Director, Alessandro Talevi has picked up this gauntlet and with some degree of confidence has straddled time and space, genres and styles to create a rather mesmeric but sometimes bewildering cacophony. There are cheeky nods to new dance crazes fused with rock and roll, there’s a Punch and Judy style puppet show and even some fairly raunchy sex scenes.
With beautiful, almost faultless design by Madeleine Boyd, the staging is set in a shabby and faded music hall, giving rise to the notion that we are about to see an time-old story, a moral tale for modern times. This is all fine and dandy but the confusion sets in when the cast of characters emerge dressed in costumes through the annals of time.
Don Giovanni and Leporello (William Dazeley and Alastair Miles) are a music-hall double act from the turn of the century, perhaps a little later. Anna and Ottavio (Meeta Raval and Christopher Turner) are done out in Victorian mourning respectability, Zerlina and Masetto (Claire Wild and Oliver Dunn) are 50’s hipsters and Elvira (Elizabeth Atherton) – is sometimes in bridal white, sometimes in Madonna’s 80’s garb.
I’m all for ambition, and for the new but when style barges its way past simple storytelling, upstaging it and, often, losing it, it starts to grate and no amount of pretty costume and well-considered lighting will affect that. The most powerful moments come when Talevi allows the singers to simply tell the story. The trio, ‘Proteggra il giusto cielo’ – ‘May the just heavens protect us’ is a fine example of such moments and we are reminded of the clarity and power of the music in these all too brief hiatus’.
Talevi is an excited director with no shortage of ideas and this production – with is bitchy, brash, brazen lust for life – would almost certainly have had Mozart squealing with delight.