The end of civilisation as we know it

Don Giovanni | Glyndebourne
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The Independent Culture

One dead horse, one half-clad skeleton, but the lady in the slinky silver frock was not, it seems, part of the production. By the time the curtain rose on act two of Glyndebourne's new Don Giovanni, mischief and subversion could easily have taken any form. Any style, any period, any form. But the lady in the slinky silver dress was there to tell us that the Donna Elvira, Sandra Zeltzer, was losing her voice and that a technical fault had denied Don G his escape route at the close of act one. "This is what should have happened," she said, with the cool professionalism of one demonstrating a new vegetable slicer, while behind her an entire segment of the ceiling crashed to the ground. Graham Vick himself couldn't have timed it better.

One dead horse, one half-clad skeleton, but the lady in the slinky silver frock was not, it seems, part of the production. By the time the curtain rose on act two of Glyndebourne's new Don Giovanni, mischief and subversion could easily have taken any form. Any style, any period, any form. But the lady in the slinky silver dress was there to tell us that the Donna Elvira, Sandra Zeltzer, was losing her voice and that a technical fault had denied Don G his escape route at the close of act one. "This is what should have happened," she said, with the cool professionalism of one demonstrating a new vegetable slicer, while behind her an entire segment of the ceiling crashed to the ground. Graham Vick himself couldn't have timed it better.

And so his stagings of the three Mozart/ Da Ponte operas reach the death and decay, end-of-civilisation-as-we-know-it stage. The empty white room of Cosi fan tutte - the room symbolising innocence and youth where anything was possible, the room which became a labyrinth of other empty rooms to harbour deceit in Figaro - is now a dung heap. A repository for human waste. The society that promised so much has yielded little.

The people who still inhabit the place have lost the plot. Self-obsessed, seeing only what they want to see, hearing only what they want to hear, saying only what will benefit them, they play out their masquerade dressed in haute couture while wading through shit. Dirty protests soil the walls, the handprints of the dispossessed. The front curtain carries the title of the opera printed back-to-front suggesting a reversal of the natural order, implicating the audience in the masquerade. We, too, are being watched - from the stage.

Vick's production makes clearer than any I have seen the cruel irony of a society indifferent to its own corruption, a society beyond selfishness, concerned only with keeping up appearances. Richard Hudson's stunning costume designs compound the conceit. Don Giovanni wears his audacious frock-coats like plumage, Donna Anna wears her grief like the season's new arrivals in monstrous mourning gowns, mile-high wigs dressed with black plumes. Donna Elvira, who chooses neither to hear nor believe the Don's pronouncement that "being faithful to one woman insults the others," is blind to the bare-chested animal in a shaggy fur coat who force-feeds her raw horse offal on what she imagines to be her wedding day. Yes, the rampant white horse - symbol of randy aristocracy in Figaro - is now the Don's last supper.

Everywhere is subversion, decadence, decay. The stench is appalling. Which is maybe why one masquerader dons a gas mask. Another telling subversion - this time of Venetian carnival masks. You see, this putrid environment could be anywhere, any time, any place. Distinctions of class and status are underlined not just through difference in attire but period, too. Zerlina and Masetto's wedding is a contemporary affair, Masetto's wide-boy, gun-toting mates straight out of Lock, Stock. All designed to make the opera more uncomfortably immediate to us.

As with Figaro and Cosi, the cast were strong as ensemble, less distinct as individual voices. Barbara Frittoli (Donna Anna) was the exception, a star presence, a star performance, ostentatious in the positive sense, her gleaming coloratura adorning her every utterance like so much expensive jewellery. Bruce Ford (Don Ottavio) was the other "international" voice, though not really at his best in the difficult " Il mio tesoro". He must have been as sorry to lose " Dalla sua pace" as the ailing Sandra Zeltzer will have been relieved not to have to deal with "Mi tradi" in her condition. Both arias were added for Vienna and Glyndebourne had elected to give the original Prague version this time round.

Natale de Carolis's sexy, leather-panted Don, dominating more physically than vocally, was more successful smooth-talking than serenading, but he worked well in conjunction with Alessandro Corbelli's excellent Leporello. And Gwynne Howell's Commendatore was no stony apparition but flesh and blood, keeping watch by his own coffin as pale hands already reached through the earth, impatient to claim the Don.

His moment of truth brought fire and fury from Sir Andrew Davis and the London Philharmonic, uncharacteristically staid until then, somewhat lacking the reckless imperative of the staging. Vick's final trump shall not be revealed - except to say that this Don Giovanni is quite beside himself in the descent to the abyss.

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