Don Giovanni, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2016

This intriguing new production sets the action in the underground world of Vienna during the early 1900s, and a junction of two tunnels at the rear of the stage later becomes the memorial to the Commendatore. His dramatic appearance in ghostly silhouette towards the end well suits this subterranean world.

Don G exits Anna's bedroom, all images ETO/ Richard Hubert Smith

Don G exits Anna’s bedroom, all images ETO/ Richard Hubert Smith

Though slightly different from the usual more elaborate setting, director Lloyd Wood has given great clarity to the interactions between the protagonists, showing the Don as a hedonistic challenger of other men, stealing or pretending to steal their women and driving them to inarticulate fury. So often one sees Don Ottavio and Masetto as slightly ineffectual characters, but not here. Masetto, in his peasants’ wedding attire with trousers that are too short, looks a bit of a twit but is no milquetoast; he knows very well what the gentleman is up to, and finds himself infuriatingly out-manoeuvred.

Don G, Masetto, Leporello

Don G, Masetto, Leporello

Bradley Travis as this gawky young man exhibited vocal boldness and fabulous diction, as did Lucy Hall as his soon-to-be wife Zerlina. The feisty interaction of the two of them was complemented by her sexily playful persona, gently lifting her skirts for the Don and her fiancé. They created a super vignette well adapted to Jeremy Sams’s colloquial singing translation. As the Don himself, George von Bergen was a stylish charmer of undeniable vocal power, quite bowling Zerlina over, while later showing his nasty streak in clouting Masetto with a rifle butt while disguised as Leporello, and petulance when throwing food around before the Commendatore joins him for his final meal.

Zerlina and the Don

Zerlina and the Don

His long-suffering servant Leporello, in Matthew Stiff’s hugely engaging vocal and stage portrayal, was co-star of the show. His aria to Donna Elvira cataloguing the Don’s conquests was superbly delivered, listing time periods rather than countries in this translation, and backed up not only by a notebook but a ledger containing details. Elvira was strongly portrayed by Polish soprano Ania Jeruc, with Camilla Roberts as a well-sung Donna Anna, both showing fine breath control. As Anna’s fiancé Don Ottavio, Robyn Lyn Evans delivered a superbly stylish Act II aria about calming his lover’s anguish by avenging her father’s death, and Tim Dawkins showed powerful bass depth as the Commendatore.

Don meets the ghost

The Don meets his nemesis

A fine performance of Mozart’s opera very well conducted by Michael Rosewell, with atmospheric designs by Anna Fleischle, and if you object to the absence of the usual statue and elaborate fires from hell, remember this is the underground demi-monde of Vienna, and rather effective.

Performances, with some alternative casting, continue at the following venues: Hall for Cornwall, Truro, 15th Mar; Lighthouse, Poole, 18th Mar; Norwich Theatre Royal, 21st, 22nd Mar; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 4th Apr; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 8th Apr; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 13th, 14th, 16th Apr; Buxton Opera House, 23rd Apr; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 27th, 28th, 30th Apr; The Hawth, Crawley 4th May; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, 6th May; Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, 10th May; Grand Theatre Blackpool, 14th May; Gala Theatre, Durham, 16th May; Perth Concert Hall, 19th May; Exeter Northcott Theatre, 25th, 26th, 28th May; Curve, Leicester, 30th, 31st May; York Theatre Royal, 4th Jun; Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, 6th Jun; Coronation Hall, Ulverston, 8th Jun; The Sands Centre, Carlisle, 10th Jun — for details click here.

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