Martin Constantine’s rampant production of Don Giovanni seizes political correctness by the throat and casts it aside. That’s not to suggest we shouldn’t be repelled by the Don’s attempts at rape and murder, and serial abuses, but Constantine fully underlines Mozart’s Dramma giocoso element in thick marker pen and allows us to laugh at this predatory character brimming with testosterone.
Giovanni’s palatial residence is in an exclusive health club, macho men flexing their muscles clad in white robes and boxer shorts wielding an array of sporting paraphernalia (a hockey stick doubles as a weapon) in front of female staff treated virtually as company merchandise. This is a man’s world amplified in Will Holt’s designs – a locker room with urinal (for salacious effect only) and cupboards which, when opened during Leporello’s ‘Catalogue’ aria, reveal an assortment of lingerie acquired from the Don’s conquests. His failed seduction of Zerlina takes place during a massage and the masked ball (grotesque faces with lolling tongues) inhabits corporate promiscuity redolent of a “bunga bunga” party complete with gold-lame swimwear, paddling pool and inflatable palm trees. Lascivious and laughable all at once but the banner proclaiming “Freedom for all mankind” takes the shine off the raunchy antics with its implicit negative – realised in Act Two’s empty lockers, the placard’s missing letters and the Don’s fateful encounter with the Commendatore. The first appearance of the statue may not be the most theatrical I’ve seen but the ghostly supper-scene grows in theatrical power (not necessarily enhanced by a disco-jiving DJ rocking to operatic hits of the 1780s) and much atmospheric lighting adds to the growing turmoil.
Characterisations are well-defined through strong, authoritative singing, at times too much for this intimate (500-seat) venue. But the interactive chemistry is rock-solid, nowhere better than between Ivan Ludlow’s Don and Emyr Wyn Jones as his accomplice Leporello, armed with a natural sense of comic timing, best when impersonating his master. While Ludlow’s ‘Champagne’ aria demonstrates flexible vocalism, it’s his Act Two ‘Serenade’ (accompanied by Nigel Woodhouse’s eloquent mandolin) that reveals fine musicianship and warmth of tone. Not so from William Morgan’s clarion Don Ottavio whose technically accomplished ‘Vengeance’ aria follows the dictum “Let rage be your guide” held by his betrothed Donna Anna sung by an imposing Paula Sides whose own unyielding tones and all-consuming ambition to punish her father’s death becomes a little wearing.
Claire Egan makes a sympathetic Donna Elvira, fully encompassing the role’s wider emotional range, praying at the end for the soul of the man who has betrayed her. Llio Evans’s bold yet innocent Zerlina and Matthew Durkan’s jealous Masetto make a convincing courting couple, whereas a stony-faced Lukas Jakobski is a Commendatore with plenty of gravitas.
Thomas Blunt draws efficient playing from the Longborough Festival Orchestra and, regardless of first-night ensemble problems, the pace is slick.