Where to start with this 2023 production of Mozart’s masterpiece premiered in the summer festival? From the opening bars of the brilliant overture we are confronted by projections delivered in the style of a graphic novel, clunking animated comic strip visuals, not a form that I like or even admire. Eventually the screen rises to reveal a grand but faded vision of a hotel, dark and gloomy tiers of rooms linked by domestic scale staircases with gilt framed landscapes, later to become bare breasts, and a few rather unimpressive potted palms, and, oh yes a case full of room keys on very public display with not a hint towards any form of security. I will return to the keys later.
Donna Anna emerges from a room and in aggressive pursuit the Don himself – wearing a rapists mask! It sets the tone for the rest of the production. The mask returns later when members of the chorus appear masked in the same way, but for what purpose?
The company are costumed in what appears to be high street fashion and fancy dress bought online from Amazon. The male chorus are stags and the females bedecked in cheap tutus and false breast as a hen party. Now I have seen hens in tutus yes, but the false breasts no, the imagery was confused and crass, and indeed confused and crass seemed to be the constant in this weirdly conceived production.
Don Giovanni is portrayed as an unattractive sexual predator with absolutely no charm whatsoever. What drives Elvira to return to him or Zerlina to fall for him is beyond reason. Leporello is equally odd, has none of the manners of a servant and spends much of the performance wearing a mackintosh formerly owned by TV cop Columbo. It’s an odd choice that finally comes into play when he needs to disguise himself as the don, but what a clumsy conceit. Nico Darmanin, who sing Don Ottavio is very good indeed and his role is the least messed with in this odd production.
The murder of Donna Anna’s father the Commendatore is oddly ineffectual too, a slight scuffle on the stair, no visible weapon, a fall down a few steps and he ends up dead. It lacks drama or darkness and in the final scene, his ghostly re-appearance is feeble on a set, stripped down after the interval, with fairy lights and a pathetic graphic in lights of the chalk mark of his earlier corpse. At the rear huge palm trees, some flickering flames, are we meant to see Vegas? I saw Blackpool.
Mariame Clément’s vision is to say the least strange, cluttered and unresolved. What is she saying? Are all men sexual monsters? Are all woman not strong enough to stand up to such monsters? There’s a huge cake too, yes a huge cake on which the Don feasts and at one point the male chorus member frolic rubbing cream into their bodies… make of that what you will.
Enough now about the theatre and on to a cast of finely voiced principals. Andrei Bondarenko is a powerful Don, Alexandra Lowe a finely and powerfully voiced Elvira and Kseniia Proshina shines as Anna. Sam Carl rises above his oddly directed characterisation in fine voice and Nico Darmanin, whose role is the least tampered with, is first class. Charlotte Bowden produces a huge and accomplished sound from her tiny frame and appears to be suitably vulnerable as Zerlina and Michael Ronan is equally impressive as Masetto, even when Don Giovanni lures him into a potential kiss that turns into a nose breaking head butt! So Masetto is potentially gay or bisexual??? Ivo Stanchev, well voiced as he is, is given nothing to work with here, sadly.
Oh and back to those keys, in the closing scene when Giovanni instructs Leporello to read the inscription on the white marble tomb, he scrambles across the stage to read the key fobs!
Muddled, misguided and oddly misogynistic we can only be grateful that it was beautifully sung. I resorted to closing my eyes and basking in the joy of the music.