Don Giovanni, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2016Posted on 1 October 2016
The Don is dead. Long live the Don. Such is the message of this new ENO production by Richard Jones where the Don personifies a force of nature on which women can hang their fantasies.
It all starts during the overture where we see Giovanni taking innumerable women through a door guarded by Leporello, and as the opera opens we see his “seduction” of Donna Anna as a sexual encounter gone wrong. She provides a mask and knife as part of the foreplay, but when her father the Commendatore rushes in from a liaison in another room, disaster strikes. Anna’s determination to rope her fiancé Don Ottavio into a quest for vengeance is really an attempt to cleanse her own guilt, and should the audience retain any doubt about the initial encounter, Act II shows Anna talking to Ottavio over the telephone, while the Don silently enters her room and pulls the mask from a drawer. His liaison with Anna, with its fatal consequences, was evidently the last of a series.
The telephone used by Ottavio, and others, is in a kiosk located at one corner of this highly stylised staging — all rectangular doors, walls and spaces. Only the 1960s sodium street lights break the perpendicularity, with nary a mobile phone in sight. Here was an image of the past — to be renewed in the unusual final moments of the opera — showing a hedonism and liking for sexual fantasy that remains timeless. Within this framework Giovanni and his servant Leporello are identically dressed in shiny suits, with only a red-haired wig distinguishing these shaven-headed men, and while the essence of seduction and fantasy lives on in the final moments only its servant changes.
Mark Wigglesworth’s direction of the orchestra showed a light touch, with ample power when needed, and I liked the four string players in boxes on the side of the auditorium for the party scene. Christopher Purves presented a formidable image of the Don, with Clive Bayley as his Leporello, and James Cresswell as the Commendatore. These along with fine singing from Caitlin Lynch as Anna, Mary Bevan as Zerlina, and Christine Rice as Elvira seemed almost archetypes, with the excellent Ottavio of Allan Clayton and the feisty Masetto of Nicholas Crawley showing the frustration of younger men bamboozled by the wiles of their beloved women.
Richard Jones has latched on to the timeless theme of Don Giovanni, which so horrifies us that we consign its eponymous agent to the depths of hell, while Jones shows us there is no such solution.
Performances continue on various dates until October 26 — for details click here.