Glyndebourne Festival 2023 – Mozart’s Don Giovanni – Andrey Zhilikhovsky, Mikhail Timoshenko, Venera Gimadieva & Ruzan Mantashyan; directed by Mariame Clément; conducted by Evan Rogister

Mozart

Don Giovanni – Dramma giocoso in two Acts to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Leporello – Mikhail Timoshenko
Donna Anna – Venera Gimadieva
Don Giovanni – Andrey Zhilikhovsky
The Commendatore – Jerzy Butryn
Don Ottavio – Oleksiy Palchykov
Donna Elvira – Ruzan Mantashyan
Zerlina – Victoria Randem
Masetto – Michael Mofidian
Actor – Anna-Marie Sullivan

Glyndebourne Chorus

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Evan Rogister

Mariame Clément – Director
Julia Hansen – Designer
Bernd Purkrabek – Lighting
Étienne Guiol – Projection Designer
Keith Wallis – Fight Director


Reviewed by: Curtis RogersMozart Don Giovanni – Dramma giocoso in two Acts to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Reviewed: 21 May, 2023
Venue: Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes, East Sussex, England

Mariame Clément’s new production of Don Giovanni for Glyndebourne feels like something we have seen before, with its edifice of doors on two tiers and stairs spiralling down in what seems to be the atrium of a hotel or country house. Recent productions by Kasper Holten for the Royal Opera House and Richard Jones for English National Opera, for example, have presented a similar basic setting of different apertures and planes, so it can make for an effective starting point, with the stairs enclosing a clear open space here and enabling some lively choreography. However, if not necessarily calling for the psychological introspection of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, such a production needs something more than a distracting scuttling about through those doors if it is to register as an insightful and memorable realisation of this ubiquitous Mozart opera.

Although ideas are tantalisingly suggested, they are never really pursued or developed into any particularly engaging, overarching interpretation and so come to seem mere gimmicks. The cliché of characters in contemporary evening dress (of course mimicking the audience at Glyndebourne) could at least imply a country house weekend party, or possibly even a murder mystery game in which a real killing is perpetrated, before the title character is pursued in revenge. Mikhail Timoshenko’s rather muted Leporello, barely getting into the character’s comic stride, probably deliberately resembles Inspector Clouseau, although it is the other investigators who draw a white line around the Commendatore’s fallen body before he is dragged off, leaving that outline on the atrium floor for the rest of the performance.

That remains the Commendatore’s only memorial here, as there is no stone statue and he reappears for the reckoning with Don Giovanni in perfectly normal human form clad in a white shirt, as he was at his death in Act One. It crosses the mind that, just maybe, the idea is that he is memorialised in a chalk line, just like the Long Man of Wilmington among the same Sussex Downs where Glyndebourne is located. But if that is the case the correspondence is not made explicit nor is it clear what it might tell us. Similarly, as the façade of doors mainly falls away for Act Two, revealing a group of palm trees beyond in the dark, a sense of Spain is possibly evoked – the original setting of the opera – but no other Iberian colour is brought out, nor any concept of the action taking place as some sort of holiday retreat. The tackily dressed party attending Zerlina and Masetto’s wedding at the same venue could just about imply a flashy beach ceremony on one of the Costas, complete with a gigantic cake around which the revellers dance at the end of Act One, and upon which Don Giovanni later gorges himself, before the showdown with the Commendatore. The wedding guests also double up as would-be assassins, but their periodic appearance along the balcony is limp rather than menacing.

A more promising line of interpretation of the title role’s character seems to be opened up during the ‘Catalogue’ Aria as the pictures around the doors switch to a lurid series of bared breasts (as though a game of Channel Four’s Naked Attraction) and Don Giovanni leers upon Zerlina with his camera, implying that he is a voyeur, at least as much as or instead of actually proceeding to any sexual intercourse. At a couple of points he crouches around the Commendatore’s white outline on the floor – for instance during his serenade ‘Deh, vieni alla finestra’, which is otherwise addressed to the audience rather than Donna Elvira’s maid or any specific figure – suggesting some reflection upon his actions, perhaps even guilt, which may explain his occasional silent appearances in the background during Act Two. But again, no consistent dramaturgical stance really comes to the fore, ending with an entirely conventional climax with infernal flames and the Commendatore dragging the Don down below.

The cast of young singers give a generally exuberant account of the music, although Andrey Zhilikhovsky is a decent if not especially characterful Don Giovanni. Ruzan Mantashyan is the most truly capable of holding her own on stage with her solid but expressive interpretation of Donna Elvira, and who doesn’t need the assistance of extra choreography to enliven her commanding rendition of ‘Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata’, especially when much the same occurs for Donna Anna’s ‘Non mi dir’ a little later in the second Act. Venera Gimadieva in that part is technically flawless but doesn’t project so much and so makes less impact. As her Don Ottavio, Oleksiy Palchykov holds a convincing, mellifluous vocal line, although his first aria ‘Dalla sua pace’ is somewhat bellowed, seemingly conscious of addressing the audience beyond. But ‘Il mio tesoro’ subsequently is more nuanced, as he speaks to the characters on stage instead.

Victoria Randem is a captivating Zerlina with her finely sustained singing, encompassing just enough colour and flexibility such that this flirtatious, knowing character doesn’t sound improbably pure and innocent.  Michael Mofidian exudes force and vigour as her enraged fiancé Masetto, but remains musically agile, not heavy handed. Jerzy Butryn needs to be more stentorian for the Commendatore to strike fear.

Like the production, Evan Rogister’s performance with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightnement is intermittent. The crucial opening section of the Overture depicting Don Giovanni’s damnation, and that scene itself near the opera’s end, make a harried, dramatic effect simply by rushing rather than contriving to create genuine terror through more nuanced pacing and layering of the music. In various other passages the strings sound opaque and bland, but for some of the more tender numbers cultivate a far more attractive sheen. During those sections the woodwind emerge with conversational delicacy, oboes adding a plangent sonority, and clarinets a more reassuring garrulousness. The fortepiano discreetly accompanies the arias, as well as the recitatives, and so buoys the music a little.

At a house famed for its Mozart, a new Don Giovanni could be quite an event. But opportunities to say something stimulating about it are missed, leading to a production that falls rather flat.

Further performances to July 15

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