Wednesday, 17 November 2010


17/11/10, ENO

3 hrs 10 mins. Superfluous Smoking alert.

This is the third Don Giovanni we've seen (after Don John at BAC and Glyndebourne in the summer) to make Leporello (Brindley Sherratt) a sleazy character with a camera and his list aria into a slide show of Don Giovanni's conquests. Though this version, in Jeremy Sams' exceedingly witty translation, turned the list not into a collection of countries but into a kind of month-by-month sales report ("March to April, 102") complete with bar charts and a gag about a "spreadsheet".

And it's the second (after Glyndebourne) to turn the Commendatore into a zombie emerging from the grave (though ENO's Commendatore was neither as frightening nor as well acted and sung as Glyndebourne's).

But some things about this production were different. I think the order of the numbers in Act 2 was changed so that Don Giovanni's little mandolin aria was no longer sung looking up at Donna Elvira's window but instead became a soliloquy, a reflection on some kind of ideal woman for whom the Don has been searching all his life, a video of her eyes projected onto the set as he sang... which helped provide him with a motive.

Indeed one of the strengths of this production (by Rufus Norris) was the care given to supplying motivation for the characters and the psychological truth of much of the action. At Glyndebourne Zerlina's switch from flirtation to crying rape seemed arbitrary; here it made sense (she was flattered by the Don's interest, then he got her drunk, then she realised what was happening). And her teasing aria to the injured Mazeppo (all about dealing with his "swellings") was again wittily done and beautifully delivered by Sarah Tynan (we've seen her at this address in The Elixir of Love and Jephtha).

But the strengths were undermined by some curious directorial decisions of which the first was the set, a constantly moving set of angular walls and windows and staircases round, through and over which the principals scrambled while they (the walls etc) were wheeled around the stage by stagehands dressed in red and yellow Hallowe'en masks and sweatshirts. Cleverly choreographed, but really annoying and not always helpful.

And there was a very odd St Vitus dance during the second act sextet when they all realise Leporello has duped them: Donna Anna (Katherine Broderick, once a diminutive ENO Brunnhilde, though she's filled out hugely since, alas) did an Irish dance; Don Ottavio (Robert Murray, rather good) took his clothes off to his underwear; Zerlina twisted herself into agonised attitudes. What was all that about? None of us knew.

Don Ottavio had a first act aria I don't recall from the Glyndebourne production, which made him rather less of a cypher and rather more of a proper character. And Mazeppo too (John Molloy) seemed in this production to be taken rather more seriously.

Iain Patterson commanding as the Don; Rebecca Stevens ill and substituted by Sarah Someone who did well. But we had a feeling that, like Rupert Goold the other day with Turandot, this was a case of a tyro opera director who didn't trust the material sufficiently and packed the production with unnecessary business.

The costumes suggested some time in the 1960s. Mazeppo wore a shiny suit and a teddy boy's quiff, Zerlina a white dress with exaggerated pencil skirt and blue polka dots, Leporello a tie and dirty raincoat, Donna Elvira a black dress and Donna Anna a red two piece suit.

The Superfluous Smoking came during the overture when the Don appeared in dumbshow, handed his cigarette to Leporello and then raped a woman his Hallowe'en costume-clad henchmen had caught, before nicking her bright green coat and a wig and putting them on, making him look (briefly) like an 18th century aristo.

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