Lacklustre Don Giovanni at London Coliseum

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart Don Giovanni (sung in English): Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of English National Opera/Edward Gardner (conductor), 17.10.2012 (CC)


Don Giovanni: Iain Paterson
Commendatore: Matthew Best
Donna Anna: Katherine Broderick
Don Ottavio: Ben Johnson
Donna Elvira: Sarah Redgwick
Leporello: Darren Jeffrey
Masetto: John Molloy
Zerlina: Sarah Tynan

Rufus Norris (director)
Ian MacNeil (set designs)
Nicky Gillibrand (costumes)
Paul Anderson (lighting)
Jonathan Lunn (movement)
Finn Ross (projection designer)

Mark Berry disliked this production the first time round (see review) as I do this time, it would seem. I was bowled over by the Bieito production back in 2004 (see review), after which pretty much anything would seem tame, but even bearing this in mind there are too many problems with Rufus Norris’ take.

Norris, of course, was part of the problem, along with Damon Albarn, in ENO’s shameful joke of a production of Dr Dee. Although Norris’ Giovanni is not quite as cataclysmically awful, it similarly disappoints in its monochrome view of the Don. Leporello is a terminally unwashed tramp (in high contrast to some of the Don’s sharp suits – although Giovanni becomes a hoodie in the second act); there is a room decorated by, it would seem, a lovesick teenager complete with redundant balloons. The fundamental conceit of the production was perhaps sound enough. The elements on the stage are manipulated by what I can only assume are demons, the same that Don Giovanni will be meeting in Hades at the opera’s close. The idea, perhaps, is that Don Giovanni’s actions and the situations he encounters are predetermined and we merely play them out. Yet we lose the sheer variety of the drama, and in doing so lose out on experiencing the proper depravity. The dark staging (literally) was presumably to echo the darkness of Giovanni’s fate, but it just seemed to manage to be remarkably drab at the same time. The result was a general disengagement with the story. It was not long until I had ceased to care what happened to this Don, or for that matter what (or whom) he did.

The Commendatore’s post-death presence is felt not only in his star turn at the end, but at several points where he hovers, silently, in the background, a reminder of the inevitable. It is uncalled for, though. Mozart, after all, has the structure firmly under control. And that star turn is less than impressive: the Commendatore raises from the ground to deliver his lines towering above Giovanni (or just standing behind him, depending on your level of engagement)

Neither was the orchestra on its best behaviour. I have enjoyed Gardner’s conducting in the past, although my previous experience of his Mozart, back in 2007 with Clemenza, generated similar reactions to what was offered here. There was a general feeling of disengagement. The punch offered by the Overture here seemed to nod towards authenticism, but if so then it was not consistently followed through. Ensemble, too, could suffer, and did on more than several occasions. As this is a revival, could this be cut rehearsal time?

It did not help that the translation (Jeremy Sams) was, to be charitable, variable, tending towards Gilbert and Sullivan rhyming all too often and often distorting the original meanings in some sort of linguistic fairground mirror. Still, if the production, lighting, costumes and orchestra were all off, surely the singers could rescue the evening?

Alas no. By far the finest member of a cast as gray as an English October day was Sarah Tynan as Zerlina. Believably innocent, beautiful of voice, sure of phrase, she shone like a tiny gleaming shard of an otherwise untreated diamond. Perhaps only “Batti, batti” was miscalculated, too lyrical and fluid for the emotions of the text to be believable. Only the Elvira, Sarah Redgwick, came close, revealing a fine voice and good pitching.

Darren Jeffrey’s vagranty Leporello would be fine If you embrace the concept (maybe you do) but vocally he was low in power, his Catalogue aria a spreadsheet of missed opportunity (bar charts and all sorts of guff was projected during its course). This Leporello is also a photographer, his master’s conquests shown to us as part of the electronic wizardry of the production. Yet this Giovanni, Iain Paterson, was no Casanova. He looked like an Average Joe who required a high injection of sexual charisma to achieve any level of success with the fairer sex at all, charisma that was notable by its absence. Unlike Mark Stone back in 2004 (who clearly had a whale of a time, and who wouldn’t, in that production?), Paterson looked and sounded like a professional singer singing to pay his mortgage.

The Masetto, the Irish singer John Molloy, tended too much towards the strained tenor to convince. Katherine Broderick was a shrill Donna Anna; at least Matthew Best’s Commendatore was in good voice.

This production fails to do justice to Mozart’s great score, unfortunately.

Colin Clarke