It was five years ago today: Don Giovanni in sex-at-Glyndebourne horror
Sunday 06 June 1999
Warner had transported the tale - lock, stock and rococo - to a 20th- century setting: Giovanni was an Armani-suited yuppie, Elvira a map- toting tourist; the company jived to Mozart at the Don's party. But traditionalists, already uneasy with modern-dress, also saw the Don simulate sex with a statue of the Virgin Mary.
The critics were divided, but not unduly disparaging. The Guardian commended the "surgical accuracy" of Warner's character dissection; the Mail saw "a Don for our time". The Independent on Sunday's Michael White felt a "genuine fascination in watching this familiar story go along unfamiliar paths, stripped of its certainties" until the graveyard scene, which "sank with all hands". The Telegraph said Warner had "undertaken a work ... about which she has no strong or original ideas".
All the reviews mentioned the boos and jeers, most of which were saved for Warner's curtain-call, and the news pages quickly followed up. "The champagne-swilling audience ... wants a certain kind of comfortable opera, not too challengingly presented" (IoS). The Sunday Times suggested that there was an "element of toffee-nosed, conservative old stick-in-the-muds who are terrified that innovation will somehow tarnish the glittery snob- value of the Glyndebourne experience". "The 'Lanson louts' have spoken: [it's] Not What We Dressed Up in Black Tie To See," interpreted the Telegraph. A photo of the Don and the Madonna even appeared on the front page of the Times.
Deborah Warner says now that it must have been a "slow and dreary summer" for the press: "The opening of the new opera house had gone spectacularly smoothly. There were no complaints. It was, and is, perfect. People were looking to rock the boat." A subsequent revival of her production in 1995 was controversy-free.
Warner accepts that a proportion of opera-goers, not just at Glyndebourne, will inevitably react to contemporary-dress productions, but "it was the statue of the Virgin Mary that did it". "The figure was absolutely purposeful," she says. "But it wasn't created to cause a sensation or shock. Opera demands that you look for contemporary parallels. As Mozart's opera has a philanderer who runs riot in a graveyard, you're obliged to look for a serious contemporary parallel which will make people sit up. A production that doesn't do so is a failed production."
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 Doctors remove 80 teeth from boy's jaw
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations
- 5 Sir Winston Churchill’s family begged him not to convert to Islam, letter reveals
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
Downton Abbey series 5: George Clooney to try and kiss Dowager Countess in charity Christmas special
Game of Thrones is most-pirated TV show of 2014
Exodus: Gods and Kings banned in the UAE for 'religious mistakes'
Doctor Who and the BBC 'promoting a gay agenda', viewers complain
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk