|English National Opera - Don Giovanni - Christopher Purves (c) Robert Workman|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 30 2016
Richard Jones' dystopic vision opens ENO's new season
|Allan Clayton (background), Christine Rice (c) Robert Workman|
This was never going to be a straightforward production of Mozart's opera, what with the combination of Richard Jones, Christopher Purves and Clive Bayley. There has been a tendency recently for performers in the opera to be on the young side, but here we had two mature singers providing a fascinatingly different response to the opera. Jones's view of the piece seems to be rather dystopic over all with more than a hint of Hollywood noir about the production. There wasn't a lack of humour in the production, but Jones certainly did not bring out the buffo elements that are implicit in Mozart's treatment of the story.
|Clive Bayley, Christopher Purves (c) Robert Workman|
Purves wasn't the most suave of Don Giovannis, I have heard the role better sung so that the champagne aria did rather go for nothing. But he invested the dialogue with a great sense of intense power. The recitatives were taken at a furious lick (and not surtitled so you had to concentrate hard), reflecting the sheer intensity and pell-mell nature of the production. Bayley's Leporello was a remarkable and rather unnerving creation. He turned in a fine account of the catalogue aria, brilliantly sung yet still with the same unnerving, rather mocking sense that imbued his whole performance. I am not sure why, but the the actor and comedian Peter Sellers kept coming to mind.
|James Creswell, Caitlin Lynch and Christopher Purves (c) Robert Workman|
The set was a simple arrangement of screens and doors, providing a series of flexible spaces. Rendered in olive green and brown, it provided a dull space. Not exactly neutral, it provided a dark, rather lowring background which underlined the dystopic view of the plot. The setting provided little sense of the hierarchy of the opera, though Nicky Gillibrand's costumes did give us something of a sense of the different classes involved, but this was not as strong as in some productions and the lack of a sense of class hierarchy rather weakened the dramaturgy.
|Caitlin Lynch and Allan Clayton (c) Robert Workman|
All this meant that Christine Rice, making her role debut as Donna Elvira, rather dominated things in the firecracker stakes. This was a performance that was so intense that Donna Elvira was almost unhinged, and there was certainly no sense of Donna Elvira being a quasi buffo character. There was no strain at the top, as can sometimes happen when mezzo-sopranos sing Donna Elvira at concert pitch. Instead we were able to revel in the wonderful combination of musicality, intensity and sheer commitment which Rice brought to the role. As can happen when the traditional version is done with two arias for Donna Elvira, Rice really dominated the proceedings.
|ENo Don Giovanni Danielle Meehan and Christine Rice (c) Robert Workman|
Mary Bevan made a poised Zerlina, slightly cool with a sense of being rather in control. This was not a pert, servant girl interpretation but something more stylish and certainly lacking in any sense of the role's buffo roots. Bevan gave us beautifully phrased accounts of the roles arias. The was complemented by Nicholas Crawley's strong and remarkably angry Masetto.
James Creswell was a darkly impressive Commendatore, and I was pleased Jones gave us the full stage directions, so that there was a statue, it did come alive and did return for supper at the end, finally dragging someone down to hell. Creswell made the most of this, and not for the first time, made you regret that the role wasn't longer.
Danielle Meehan as Donna Elvira's maid played a far larger role in the opera, obsessed by Giovanni from the very beginning, with Meehan turning in a remarkable performance.
|English National Opera - Don Giovanni - ENO Chorus (c) Robert Workman|
Inevitably all productions of Mozart's Don Giovanni are in some sense reductive, homing in on particular aspects of an opera which is remarkably rich. Whilst I found Jones' ideas interesting, the way he tended to push characterisation towards expressionist stylisation meant that I felt that we lost something of the rich humanity in the music. Mozart had a sympathy to his character's foibles and fallibility so that we can understand and sympathise with them. Jones pushed many of his characters towards the unsympathetic, with Allan Clayton's Don Ottavio as almost the only normal person there, though the results were undoubtedly striking.
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Vibrant young theatre: Opera for All and Garsington Opera in Grimsby with a project on Eugene Onegin
- Mozartian fragment: Classical Opera in Zaide - CD review
- Luxury voices: Sonoro in Rachmaninov's Vespers - concert review
- Ice and longboats: Ancient music of Scandinavia - CD review
- Visceral Verdi: Noseda conducts LSO in Verdi's Requiem - Concert review
- Wit and wisdom: Steven Isserlis re-visits Schumann's advice for young musicians - book review
- Tour de force: Barry's Beethoven - CD review
- Enjoyable and engaging: Opera Settecento in Hasse's Demetrio - opera review
- Exhibiting Handel's tenor: John Beard at Handel's House - exhibition review
- A different view: Cello music by Rebecca Clarke - CD review