Between Mozart’s Don Giovanni and the Don Juan of myth yawns a gap: despite his list of claimed successes, none of the attempted seductions we see comes off.
Brigid Brophy was the first to assert that he was a repressed homosexual, courting not women but his own destruction. Producer Richard Crichton’s trigger came when he heard a gay friend claim a longer list of lovers than Leporello’s. He and director Dominic Gray would draw inspiration from Matthew Bourne’s male swans to create ‘a production set in Heaven’, aka London’s leading gay club.
Filled with the usual celestial clientele - plus a generous admixture of cultural tourists from the straight world – this venue had the right sort of tawdry-festive feel; Gray’s decision to set the drama in the Eighties was underlined by a clumsy political salvo from a Thatcher-figure who then mercifully disappeared until the end. The plot, we were told, would ride on bold transpositions, and the opening rape and murder scene bore that out. This Don – sung by baritone Duncan Rock – was a gay nightclub owner, with Mozart’s Donna Anna transformed into vulnerable young Alan (Patrick Ashcroft), and with Tamsin Dalley, as Alan’s mother, doing service as the Commendatore. Mozart’s deranged Elvira became the equally deranged Eddie, a City boy spurned by the Don, but a more startling change came with the betrothed couple Zac and Marina, where Zac got flighty young Zerlina’s role – and some of her arias, which he couldn’t sing - as the prime object of the Don’s desire. It made good sense to turn the Don’s irrepressible co-conspirator Leporello into his female PA, particularly as Zoe Bonner sang it.
Despite the wit of Ranjit Bolt’s libretto, this reshaping of the plot prevented the drama sparking as it should: Zac was quite indecently eager to be seduced by the Don, and Alan’s furious revenge aria couldn’t work as it needed to, nor could the revenge sextet later. On the other hand, we got some unexpected bonuses. Colin Pettet’s little ensemble played beautifully, and Bonner’s arias were a treat, as were Stephanie Edwards’s as ‘Don Ottavio’; Dalley made an inspired re-appearance as a bag-lady, and Rock’s performance was more commanding - both vocally and physically - than many I have seen on the kosher operatic stage.