Don Giovanni, Soho Theatre, August/ September 2011

This is Robin Norton-Hale’s reduced form of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, updated to the turn of the 21st century with Giovanni as a city trader named Johnny.

Maciek O'Shea as Johnny

A simple set, occasional video projections, a piano and live electronic music, but it’s still essentially Mozart, and among the three different casts, Maciek O’Shea was superb in the main role of Johnny. An insouciant city slicker with bundles of charm and a devil may care attitude, he has made quite enough money already and is now glad to pile one experience on top of another. The challenge and novelty is the thrill, as his faithful intern explains to Elvira in an updated version of Leporello’s Madamina aria, “So regardless of your feelings/ I’ve recorded all his dealings/ But the thing he finds most thrilling/ is a woman who’s not willing”. Using a hand-held digital recorder he summarises Johnny’s amorous conquests, and the Don’s 1003 lovers in Spain alone become the same number for Johnny in London. The long-suffering intern, named Alexander rather than Leporello, was excellently sung and portrayed by Richard Immerglück.

Christina Gill as Elvira, and Richard Immerglück as Alexander

The Soho Theatre’s small space brings us close to the action, and we clearly see Johnny’s callous knifing of the Commendatore before he smashes a window to give the pretence of a break-in. But in this reduced space I found one or two of the female voices came over too strongly at times, though O’Shea and Immerglück were a delight to listen to, and the diction of the whole cast was excellent. It’s always a pleasure to abandon surtitles yet understand every word that’s sung, and there was an engaging immediacy about the duet between Johnny and Alexander at the start of Act II when Johnny decides he’d best make himself scarce and leave his clients to Alexander.

Some loud electronic music at the start of this production came as a shock, and I was ready to walk, but fortunately it didn’t last and the musical support turned out to be excellent. OperaUpClose has done a great job of adapting this longish opera to a shorter and smaller scale, and the scene at the end when Johnny invites the Commendatore to dinner made complete sense. Johnny, who gets his thrills from new experiences, relishes the prospect of having a dead man at his table, and Gerard Delrez gave a strong account of the Commendatore’s demand that Johnny seek forgiveness, which of course he refuses. After the presence has left, Johnny sees his life flash past him, and rushes out through the door. At the end we see an image of a man hanging by a rope — Johnny’s final experience, his own death.

Performances continue until September 17 — for details click here.

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