Don Giovanni, Coliseum, London
Spira Mirabilis, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

In his opera debut, director Rufus Norris offers a lothario implausibly making up for lost love with serial affairs

Of the dozen or so most-performed operas, Don Giovanni is the hardest nut to crack.

Here is a work of high seriousness and low humour, whose anti-hero is the man all men might want to be for a night, and the man all women might hope to change. This much is plausible in a contemporary context. But while our fascination with libertines is undimmed, belief in supernatural retribution has all but disappeared. For Calixto Bieito, whose nihilistic Don was damned from the first gasp of Mozart's overture, Hell was a multiple stabbing on a tawdry sofa. For Rufus Norris, whose debut staging for English National Opera replaces Bieito's production, it is electrocution on a high-voltage, abstract crown of thorns.

Norris exploits the Coliseum's deep stage, creating a tumbling farce of forced entries and emergency exits as masked actors propel wheeled components of Ian MacNeil's set into the paths of the singers. The neon-lit shrine, wrestling masks and faded plastic curtains suggest a Latin American location for the Don's Day of the Dead. There are moments of cuteness (a boxing glove is presented to Masetto on a silver salver during "Batti, batti") and absurdity (in the Act II sextet, Donna Anna breaks into an Irish jig while Don Ottavio strips down to his boxer shorts), which could be read as a sign of impatience with the material. Meanwhile, Jeremy Sams's all-puns-intended translation forces us to laugh at a rapist and murderer's "spreadsheet" of sexual conquests in a freewheeling spin on the catalogue aria.

The comedy of Mozart's dramma giocoso is well served, a guilty, involuntary pleasure. But the terror promised by the Commendatore's amplified death rattle and the hot veins of electricity that crackle above is never fully realised. Like Bieito, Norris has dispensed with class structure, but instead of celebrating or condemning the Don's singularity, he tries to mitigate it. "Deh vieni alla finestra" makes reference to a lost love, as though the multiple erotic adventures were an attempt to recapture a romantic ideal. I don't buy this. And for all the melancholy suavity of his singing in this aria, Iain Paterson doesn't project the requisite carnality to incite lust or envy. Instead, it is Sarah Tynan's Zerlina who emerges as the sexual predator, the character most confident in her skin.

Interesting as many of Norris's ideas are, Don Giovanni does not point to a change in the fortunes of a company whose best work obstinately remains outside the core repertoire. Conductor Kirill Karabits's fitful reading of the score fails to cohere, despite some sublimely poised woodwind playing. Stepping in for Rebecca Evans with the merest of hiccups in "Mi tradi", Sarah Redgwick's Donna Elvira has the heart-on-sleeve energy of Judy Garland, all liquid eyes, knockout legs and restless hands. As Donna Anna, Katherine Broderick displays a voice packed with exciting potential. Her attachment to the Commendatore (Matthew Best) and non-attachment to her fiancé is not explored. Saddled with regional accents that ricochet around the British Isles, John Molloy's Masetto and Brindley Sherratt's Leporello deliver sturdy support, as does Robert Murray in the kick-me role of Don Ottavio.

Purists would say that the only thing that matters in an orchestral concert is the music. Yet nothing compares to watching music happen. The drama of a symphony is one of collective breathing, of eye and ear contact, mutual risk. Hence the London debut of Spira Mirabilis – a conductorless ensemble of young players from Orchestra Mozart and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe who develop a single work in a week of rehearsals – was uniquely thrilling. Had you closed your eyes, theirs was a period-inflected, super-caffeinated Eroica of the sort Giovanni Antonini might conduct. Eyes open, it was a live-action analysis of Beethoven's score, leadership passing from first violinist Lorenza Borrani to cellist Luise Buchberger, flautist Anne Parisot and viola player Simone Jandl as each idea was introduced and developed, with outstanding warmth and delicacy in the supporting textures. Played with such joy and daring, this was an Eroica to make any purist blink.

'Don Giovanni' (0871 911 0200) to 3 Dec

Next Week:

Anna Picard sees David McVicar's production of Adriana Lecouvreur

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower