Don Giovanni is a problematic opera, one that everyone knows is a great opera, but which seldom appears as such on stage. Opera North has had its share of perverse productions, though the Don Giovannis I’ve walked out of have been elsewhere. If not wilfully exasperating, productions are often troubled by the perceived need for an over-arching concept.
Alessandro Talevi’s production is unusual in being unfailingly enjoyable, full of ideas, but refreshingly unpretentious. The opera is described as a “dramma giocoso” and Talevi homes in on “giocoso” – this Don Giovanni is fun! The invention is directed not towards some metaphysical concept, but towards making a notoriously intransigent narrative work. There are some failures among the inventions (Don Giovanni’s taming of Masetto and the roughs seems to have strayed in uninvited from The Magic Flute), but the use of Mr. Punch/Commedia dell’ Arte puppet shows is totally effective – the puppets take us through the stickiest part of the narrative as well as being very funny, and Don Giovanni as puppet-master makes a deal of sense.
Madeleine Boyd’s set and costumes are very much in the service of characters and action. The set is a sort of painted box, with a puppet stage set in a transverse curtain; the colourful costumes belong to assorted periods (mainly 1870s to 1950s), but bring out the class distinctions essential to Don Giovanni.
Without diluting his evil, William Dazeley presents a Don of genuine charm whose amused relish for his exploits is infectious, singing with elegance and forming an entertaining double act with Alastair Miles’ droll Leporello. The master-servant relationship is deftly and wittily presented, with Miles clearly delighting in his leave of absence from all those Verdi and Wagner heavies. Making a similar impact are Elizabeth Atherton, whose beautifully-sung Donna Elvira is more human than most, and Claire Wild, the most animated of Zerlinas who makes “Batti Batti” a sexy fusion of the physical and the musical. In comparison Meeta Raval and Christopher Turner make a somewhat dour duo as Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, despite Talevi’s attempt to give Don Ottavio some character in the form of petty thieving, but both sing with conviction as part of a well-matched ensemble. Michael Druiett has the vocal depths and menacing shaven head to register as the Commendatore and Oliver Dunn is a hapless Teddy Boy of a Masetto, dwarfing his Zerlina, but dominated by her.
Tobias Ringborg conducts a stylish performance, with notable contributions from the woodwind and his own attentive and flexible fortepiano continuo.