Don Giovanni – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By Sandra Callard, February 2018
I had never seen Don Giovanni. Despite seeing numerous operatic productions over the years, Mozart’s famous opera had passed me by. Opera North’s new production broke my duck, and the packed house boded well for my introduction.
Mozart’s opera was first performed in Prague in 1787, so is amongst the oldest still being performed with stirring regularity on the operatic circuit. It is a darkly comic piece, interspersed with violence, murder, seduction and rape. It is also a long opera, being three hours in total (short interval included).
The eponymous anti-hero is a serial rapist, (William Dazeley is a consummately nasty Giovanni), perfectly at ease with his debauched lifestyle. Dazeley also possesses a gratifyingly good tenor voice. Giovanni has, so his admiring and complicit servant Leporello sings, seduced hundreds of women in numerous countries. Leporello is sung by John Savournin with a nice touch of sarcasm and humour which limits our condemnation of him.
When Giovanni attempts the seduction of the Commodore’s daughter, Donna Anna, her father confronts him, so Giovanni kills him, showing no fear of retribution and no regard for the sorrow of Donna Anna. Jennifer Davis is a compelling Donna Anna in her Opera North debut, and the scene is thus set for the sworn destruction of Giovanni.
The bizarre dichotomy of black comedy and repulsive behaviour functions effectively as the action swings alarmingly from comedy to tragedy and vice versa in a surreal concoction of hostile emotions.
The timescale of the opera swings wildly backwards and forwards between the 1700s, the 1950s and the present day, with the dates fetchingly shown on a red electronic strip, all with the same characters, producing uncertainty in myself as to why. I eventually deduced that it represented the unfortunate premise that Giovanni is a man for all seasons and all ages in that his abhorrent behaviour resurfaces in every generation.
“Alarming and humorous”
A surprisingly innovative feature is a window set into the stage curtains which itself holds a pair of curtains, through which members of the cast, showing heads only, expound on what is happening to them throughout the story. We are also treated to a lovely duet, which really could not be taken seriously in that context, and the whole thing contained welcome interludes of light relief.
The music and arias are lovely, though there were only a couple of pieces that I found instantly recognisable, and the overture is vapid and forgettable. The action is constant, in turns alarming and humorous, but the whole is somewhat long. The eventual massive denouement is spectacular, with some genuinely spooky moments, but was, for me, strangely unsatisfying.
Opera North’s production is as tight and professional as we have come to expect, but my first taste of Mozart’s Don Giovanni left me, in spite of the wonderful singing, slightly bewildered at its longevity.
images: Bill Cooper