A Slice of Operatic Cake 8: Don Giovanni
One of the most famous operas probably ever, Don Giovanni was bound to be a memorable experience in some form or another. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the opening night of a revived production from 2012 at Opera North (17/02), and suffice to say it has taken me a while to get my thoughts together about it.
Alessandro Talevi's take on this classic certain has a lot going on. There are two key conceptual ideas to this production that I'll try not to spoil here. One of them adds directly to the narrative in quite a clever fashion without being too confusing, and the other is perhaps more of a metaphorical overlay which becomes more and more intense throughout the second half. This latter concept is also a fantastic way for the director to get around some trickier moments as well as add some great and very unique comedy. The two concepts are incredibly clever and meaningful taken separately - but putting the two together gives the piece a very overwhelming and sometimes confusing feel.
If the Verdi is staged in a very simple, subtle way, then this Mozart is the opposite. The plot itself, though, is very much like this - and so these concepts coupled with Madeleine Boyd's brilliant Lemony Snickett-esque costume and stage design give a rather impressive sensory experience. Cleverly, these layers of ideas do seem to come together very well for that famous penultimate scene, which begins to make a lot of sense after almost three hours of surprises. This madcap staging might not be everyone's cup of tea (in fact, I heard some audience members state their outright anger at it - a sex scene in Don Giovanni?! The nerve!) but its concepts are entirely charming and thought provoking, and add further, entertaining layers to an already full-on libretto. Yet, among the big and the bold, the production manages some sensitivity in light of recent events involving sexual misconduct. Subtle additions of power to female characters were nice to see, and as the audience, we hated the Don just at the right moments, and in the right ways.
Under Christoph Altstaedt, the orchestra of Opera North add to the urgent, madcap nature of the piece. At times a little too quick, perhaps, the music was always very full of life, adventure and mischief - with singers giving performances of similar brilliance. Of particular note was John Savournin as Leporello (the director of last season's 'Trial By Jury'), giving one of the funniest yet pitch-perfect operatic performances I've seen. There were a few prop malfunctions, yet unlike in the Verdi, the cast dealt with them expertly - without taking anything away from the experience.
For a staging which throws so much at an already busy piece, Don Giovanni doesn't quite match the brilliance of last year's Hansel and Gretel, yet is utterly thought provoking, charming, funny and brilliantly performed. And yes, it did leave me a little bamboozled to start with, but if you're only going to go to the opera a few times a year if that - this is the cake to satisfy that operatic hunger.