United Kingdom Longborough Festival Opera  – Mozart, Don Giovanni: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Longborough Festival Opera / Thomas Blunt (conductor). Longborough, Gloucestershire, 11.7.2019. (CP)
Director – Martin Constantine
Designer – Will Holt
Lighting designer – Tim Mitchell
Associate/Movement director – Jennifer Fletcher
Don Giovanni – Ivan Ludlow
Leporello – Emyr Wyn Jones
Donna Elvira – Claire Egan
Donna Anna – Paula Sides
Don Ottavio – William Morgan
Zerlina – Llio Evans
Masetto – Matthew Durkan
Il Commendatore – Lukas Jakobski
Longborough Festival Opera pulled something very close to a rabbit out of the hat in this season’s third production – Don Giovanni. This fickle, chameleon-like being is the eponymous character whose actions affect those women around him by knowing how to adapt to all sorts of situations. So step into the #MeToo era and, beyond, into Time’s Up, where the campaigns are shaking the power structures in society’s most visible sectors. Matters of womanising, subjugation and general disrespect for women are top of organisations’ concerns. Martin Constantine confirms, as director, through his adept use of Donna Elvira, women lead in more creative ways, developing more respectful work environments. Constantine acknowledges the importance of empowerment through empathy, recognising the worthiness of women’s skills in building cohesive teams. And that is how Longborough’s interpretation of Don Giovanni ends – with the girls very much in the ascendant.
For the Commendatore’s daughter, Donna Anna, justice seems a distant dream as she grieves following her father’s vicious killing. She has strong claims to protest against the harassment to which Don Giovanni subjects his sought after conquests, but there is feeling the drama is turning into a witch hunt. Zerlina, too, has legitimate claims to protest but her priority remains the need to save her relationship with Masetto.
The locker room is designer Will Holt’s playground in which massage tables, urinal and individual locker displays of underwear collected during Don Giovanni’s conquests feature prominently. Locker room links to the early days of #MeToo were confirmed with references to ‘little slapper’ – slut shaming being the new reality with a debauched drinks party against a backdrop of horrible, cheap blown-up palm trees. Within this claustrophobic atmosphere scantily dressed gym instructors help the sports players, whether hockey or foil fencing, to monitor their progress and to achieve their goals.
Framing the party is a banner strapline FREEDOM FOR ALL MANKIND but as Donna Anna’s distant dream of justice eventually becomes reality so letters are eliminated from the banner rendering the message meaningless.
Lukas Jakobski makes his a second appearance of the season (previously Henry in Anna Bolena), in the role of Commendatore. His commanding presence as the statue in the final act leads to the delivery of the justice his daughter has been seeking with the unrepentant Don being dragged away. Ivan Ludlow (Don Giovanni) worked effectively with the track-suited Emyr Wyn Jones (Leporello), the latter warming to his task when given the opportunity to impersonate Giovanni. There is no doubting the commitment of Claire Egan (Donna Elvira) also making a welcome return to Longborough. Hers is a rich and expressive voice and nowhere more so than in the duets with Emyr Wyn Jones. Paula Sides (Donna Anna) was sure-toned, complementing the singers around her with silvery bell-like soprano voice. The performance hits home with an enthusiastic hunt for the Don, leaving behind Donna Anna and her virtuous peers plus a servant without a master.
This production uses a translation by Amanda Holden who happily admits this is a very female-centric opera. On occasions her translations caused mild amusement in the auditorium; the clarity of singing by the majority of performers in English was exceptional. Conductor Thomas Blunt led a small chamber orchestra distinguished by some excellent mandolin playing. From the rhythmic chords of the overture to the simplicity of the last few bars, the orchestra played with pleasingly scrupulous attention to balance.