Presumably it was the idea of John Cox, the producer, a well-known figure in Scotland, to give this established painter a go at designing opera. Cox also will have thought of the idea of ubiquitous doors and windows that threaten to turn the piece into a French farce but serve well the witty and stylish production, with its clever sight-gags and sudden materialisations.
In fact, the most telling visual effects certainly come from Cox, not Howson. Donna Elvira (Joan Rodgers, singing with a kind of tight-lipped inward passion that underplays the character's wildness) is obviously pregnant, and she is left happily caressing her bump as the final curtain descends. Like Siegmund in Die Walkure, Giovanni is to have a successor.
Otherwise, it is hard to see what is contributed by the design aspect. Something like a ruinous railway station, a pyramidic house out of The Magic Flute, a free-standing doorway like one of those things at airports, are not enough to dispel the sense of cliche. In fact, this is merely a world of simple painted flats which switch constantly (far too many scene changes) with much grinding of machinery and delays in the action. The costumes - a tailcoat for Giovanni, Ottavio as an awkward student dressed out of the Oxfam shop, plain and handsome gowns for the women - seem merely absentminded.
Musically, however, the piece is in safe hands; Nicholas McGegan sends each number spinning bravely into up-tempo life and the orchestra provides a sense of brisk rhythm. In spite of this, the cast are unable to dispel a generally lightweight impression. Yanni Yannissis is an excellent Leporello, ducking and gesturing his way out of trouble, and Peter Mattei does well as Giovanni; he is enormously tall and young and suggests something out of a rock band, where his rhythmically vague singing would, however, be out of place.
One's heart warms to Neill Archer's Ottavio; his small, tight tone lacks sensuality in "Il mio tesoro", but for once the voice sits easily in this very high range and he seems an honest and pathetic boy instead of a wimp. Lisa Milne is a charming Zerlina, and Andrea Silvestrelli a terrific Commendatore - what a pity to replace him in the last scene with a back-projection and send his voice over an amplifier.
Only Francesca Pedaci (Donna Anna) seemed to lack the essential qualities. Her soft-centred voice could not provide the fire and ice needed for the top of these crackling ensembles and "Or sai chi l'onore" fell flat. Cox's wit and professionalism keep the show going. There is even a certain bravura in Howson's scenery, but it makes you expect a matching visual wit which is never delivered.
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