Jonathan Kent sees the prime challenge of ‘Don Giovanni’ as being to find a way to ‘give its hero a life’, since his mix of charm and demonic psychopathy is entirely unexplained: he wants it to be clear that this is the first time the Don has killed, and that it’s murder rather than libertinage which sends him to hell. Kent’s thesis worked well when the show was unveiled last year, thanks to Gerald Finley’s charisma in the role, but the production was in some ways problematic.
Kent and his designer Paul Brown had opted for a monochrome look redolent of the films of Antonioni, and the grey cube which dominated the stage – constantly rotating and opening like a box of tricks – imparted a pleasing sense of mystery. But their ‘graveyard’ was a cumbersome hydraulic contraption, and their solution for the climactic appearance of the Commendatore – who materialised from under the Don’s table like a half-decomposed corpse – evoked disgust rather than the requisite shock and awe. The show was streamlined for the autumn tour: would that streamlining be retained for this summer season?
Alas, no. On the other hand, while Finley is triumphing as Hans Sachs in David McVicar’s Glyndebourne ‘Meistersinger’, Lucas Meacham – who has been drafted in to replace him – brings a suave, Mastroianni-style persuasiveness to the character of the Don; Matthew Rose, as the Don’s sidekick Leporello, infuses that picaresque figure with an unaccustomed gravitas, thus showing him in an interesting new light.
In fact this revival is more strongly cast than the original was. Albina Shagimuratova sings the bereaved Donna Anna with a pure-toned expressiveness which Toby Spence’s Don Ottavio matches gracefully; Mia Persson’s incarnation of the emotionally-deranged Donna Elvira is subtly characterised and exquisitely sung; this vengeful trio sing together to majestic effect.
The most striking difference between this (Vienna) version of the opera and the more usually performed (Prague) version lies in the ‘Shaving Duet’ where Zerlina plays sadistic games with a razor over the trussed-up Leporello. Her aria may not be Mozart’s most inspired, but as the sexually-provocative Marita Solberg delivers it, the danger is palpable. In-Sung Sim’s incarnation of the Commendatore is splendidly heroic, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Robin Ticciati generates all the right frissons from the pit. Hydraulics apart, a brilliant evening.