Sir Thomas Directs a Convincing Don Giovanni

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Don Giovanni: Soloists, Chorus of Don Giovanni, Orchestra of Scottish Opera / SperanzaScappucci (conductor), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 19.11.2013 (SRT)


5. Scottish Opera's Don Giovanni, 2013. Directed by Sir Thomas Allen, Designed by Simon Higlett. Credit James Glossop.
5. Scottish Opera’s Don Giovanni, 2013. Directed by Sir Thomas Allen, Designed by Simon Higlett. Credit James Glossop.

Don Giovanni – Jacques Imbrailo
Leporello – Peter Kalman
Donna Anna – Anita Watson
Commendatore – JóhannSmáriSævarsson
Don Ottavio – Ed Lyon
Donna Elvira – Lisa Milne
Zerlina – Anna Devin
Masetto – Barnaby Rea


Sir Thomas Allen (director)
Simon Higlett (designer)

I often say I’ve never seen a good production of Don Giovanni.  There’s so much that can go wrong, both in terms of casting and staging (it’s notorious as a director’s graveyard).  I can honestly say, however, that tonight came pretty darn close to being that elusive success.  In some senses, that shouldn’t be a surprise with Thomas Allen at the helm.  As one of the great Don Giovannis of the 20th Century, he knows this opera from the inside out and his previous Mozart (and Rossini) for Scottish Opera have demonstrated his impeccable gifts as a storyteller.  He sets the opera squarely in the 18th century (with lavish but not ostentatious costumes to match) but relocates it to Venice.  This fits nicely with Da Ponte’s acquaintance with (and possible model of) Casanova, but more importantly it fits in with the idea of masks, disguise and intrigue, and it’s a city where the nobility were prone to exploiting their privileged position.  Venice is suggested rather than laboured – the occasional character slides in via gondola – but the sets as a whole are traditional, three dimensional and very effective, most importantly in the way they can be moved or repositioned.  Some of the set-pieces, such as the Don’s banqueting hall, are very well done, and I loved the graveyard scene with its beautifully lit starry canopy and, for once, a convincing statue.

Importantly, Allen’s production isn’t afraid to embrace the supernatural elements of the work.   The Commendatore’s ghost appears, ominously, at various doorways or openings in the first act, usually when the Don is committing a misdemeanour, and the damnation scene is done very effectively, with subtle lighting and sparing use of flame, and just enough suggestion of threat to make it convincing.  Allen is also very good at directing his singers.  Most importantly, he gets the master/servant relationship just right, assuring us of the closeness of the banter between the two men but subtly reinforcing the hierarchy too.

Jacques Imbrailo is a rising singer who appears to have the world at his feet at present, and his first Don Giovanni was always going to be interesting.  He sings the role with tremendous beauty and a good deal of flair, and his youth helps to add to the character’s rakish appeal.  The lyricism of his voice means that he already has an impressive measure of the character’s seductive side.  He hasn’t quite grasped the darkness or the grit yet, but no doubt that will come with time, and I expect that, in a decade’s time, he will own the role completely.  He was partnered brilliantly by Peter Kalman, a servant who clearly adores his master, and Kalman’s full, throaty baritone was a joy to listen to, as well as being a good contrast with Imbrailo.  Sævarsson’sCommendatore was equally impressive.  Ed Lyon has all the technique and tessitura for Ottavio, but not the tone and, to my ears, he never sounded comfortable with the role.  Anita Watson, standing in for an indisposed Susan Gritton, sounded distinctly off colour in the opening scene, but warmed up successfully and gave a very impressive account of Anna’s arias.  Lisa Milne was noticeably (and rightly) more lyrical as Elvira, and she was on top form in the first act, though she tired a little in the second, and her breath control was somewhat ragged in Mitradì.  Anna Devin made a beautiful Zerlina, though, delicate and vampish at the same time, and she was partnered by an impressively humane Masetto from Barnaby Rea.  In the pit, SperanzaScappucci conducted with fairly traditional, if occasionally slightly sluggish, tempi, but she injected the big climaxes with energy and supported the softer arias very impressively: Vedraicarino benefited from especially lovely playing.

Maybe I’ll never be completely happy with a production ofDon Giovanni, but I’ll never stop coming back and trying.  I left the theatre tonight feeling firmly satisfied and wanting more, and it’s hard for any audience member to ask for more than that.

Don Giovanni continues at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre until Saturday 23rd November.

Simon Thompson

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