ENO’s new Don Giovanni is another example of a respected theatre director failing to rise to the challenge of breathing new life into a standard of the operatic repertoire.  It’s becoming a familiar story at the Coliseum.  

Ideas that might have blossomed in the hands of an experienced opera director fall limp for Rufus Norris, best known for recent West End productions of Cabaret and Festen

De-glamourising the Don is a good move but the opportunity to show him as a vicious exploiter is missed.  Iain Paterson’s seducer, a dead-ringer for Jonathan Ross with floppy hair and a natty suit, is more louche than depraved.  Projections during the Catalogue Aria show his potential as a rapist of old ladies and children (nowadays a romanticised portrayal of the famous rake would hardly be acceptable) but this concept is not followed through and it’s typical of a directorial tentativeness throughout the evening.

From a couple of damp-squib fireworks during the overture, there’s plenty of extraneousness: amplified deep-breathing, odd yelps and cries, electric crackles and a ballroom full of dancing couples during “Dalla sua pace.”  The chorus suffer similarly.  There’s mum and dad dancing during the disco, lots of motivation-less running around and an unthreatening waving of kitchen utensils when the crowd turn on a disguised Leporello.

Musically things are not a lot better.  There’s little singing of any real distinction and the anticipated UK opera debut of Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits disappoints, with a tendency towards sluggishness. 

Robert Murray despatches Don Ottavio’s arias with some style and Sarah Redgwick, a late replacement for an indisposed Rebecca Evans, impresses as Donna Elvira but it’s sad to say that Katherine Broderick’s ENO debut as Anna doesn’t hit the mark.  She’s a talented young singer, who left Guildhall only three years ago and has a sparkling future ahead but, at this stage, this is just too huge a step.

Fine experienced singers like Brindley Sherratt as a seedy Leporello and Matthew Best as the Commendatore do what they do but there’s little insight in their direction (although the latter’s death sitting white-suited against a graffitied wall is a striking image).

Jeremy Sams’ translation is wildly colloquial, effective some of the time, with plenty of humour punctuating the action.  The Catalogue Aria is completely re-written, replacing the countries with a reckoning of monthly totals and a witty visual presentation.  Other stabs at humour misfire, such as Zerlina (excellent Sarah Tynan) recognising Masetto (an equally good John Molloy) by his protruding arse.  The timing of the music just doesn’t allow the joke to happen and there are various other misjudgements of a similar kind.

With an inexplicable structure that hangs above the stage all evening looking like the tracks from a child’s railway set, the production more and more resembles a runaway train hurtling towards destruction, while the driver busies himself in one of the carriages.

 

- Simon Thomas