There’s narcissism and there’s narcissism and in his terrific new staging of Mozart’s Don Giovanni for Opera Holland Park director Stephen Barlow leaves us in no doubt as to who’s the fairest of them all.
There’s only one image in this Don’s picture gallery and it’s replicated over and over in frames large and small. Of course, society made him what he is and society – all courtly airs and dances - makes its own entrance before Mozart’s overture has run its breathless course. The ubiquitous Don is masked - as the devil, who else? - and since a pool of blood already marks the spot where the Commendatore and his assailant will fall there can be no escaping that the devil’s work, to say nothing of his finest tunes, will dominate the evening.
Barlow has opted for a late Victorian setting to best reflect the class and privilege which is at the heart of this turbulent 24 hours. Designer Yannis Thavoris ingeniously complements the handsomely restored façade and leaded windows of the original house with dark wood panelled surfaces, quickly spiriting us from mansion to hotel to tavern. The reckless dash of the narrative is unremitting (keenly propelled by conductor Robert Dean with especial panache forthcoming from the OHP Orchestra’s wind section) but Nicholas Garrett’s Don Giovanni seems to languish in the eye of its storm. He delivers the hectic “champagne aria” from the comfort of his favourite armchair; “La ci darem la mano” has him sustaining an easy mellifluous legato whilst engaged in a sweaty full-blown seduction of Zerlina. The gawky plain-looking girl in glasses (a marvellously engaging and ample-voiced Claire Wild) is suddenly all-woman as the Don lets down her hair and removes the horn-rims. Never mind that her husband-to-be in the next room – a “gentleman” does what a “gentleman” pleases. The fine line between consent and abuse doesn’t exist for the ruling classes. Don G serenades and even the maid and bell-boy quickly succumb.
Only Leporello (a lanky and likeable Matthew Hargreaves) sees him for what he is – though his own self-interest (usually cash) invariably brings him round. The women scorned make free with the embellishments, especially Laura Mitchell’s Donna Elvira who is heard to best effect when she isn’t pushing to fill the space; Ana James’ Donna Anna makes her presence felt with a highly creditable “Non mi dir”. Thomas Walker’s Don Ottavio bites off more than he can chew with his ornamentation of “Il mio tesori”.
But dramatically this Don Giovanni is all of a piece. Barlow has a conspicuous talent: international opera houses should be knocking at his door.