Review: Don Giovanni (Opera Holland Park)
Mozart's dark comedy is well served by OHP's strongly cast new production
RMS Queen Mary, Cunard Line, ship's log.
Day two of voyage. Destination revealed in sealed orders to be Hell. Events as for day one except for the onset of a storm-force gale. Temperatures plummeted, canopies slapped alarmingly, lighting rigs swayed perilously overhead. So fierce was the wind that passenger Leporello was unable to light his candelabra.
I don't want to overstate it, but gosh what a night. Grimes on the Beach had nothing on this. Oliver Platt may not be the first director to set Don Giovanni on a cruise ship (no, really he's not) but his is surely the first version to be tempest-toss'd by mother nature herself. Opera Holland Park's heroic stage company - and, especially, the splendid City of London Sinfonia under Dane Lam - carried on serenely while the audience adopted the brace position and clung for dear life.
In the circumstances a balanced review might seem out of the question, but the truth is it all went swimmingly despite the appalling conditions. OHP may not be an airtight space but at least the important areas are under cover, and the company's doughty singers disported themselves in skimpies without so much as a goosebump. We could have been back in the 1950s when hardiness was the norm; and, in Neil Irish's spectacular set and costumes, we were. All that was missing was a dapper little Belgian detective.
A distinguished company of principals has been cannily cast. Ashley Riches, tall, fair and handsome, sang the title role with a golden timbre laced with incipient seduction; John Savournin, moustachioed and besuited as Leporello, was his equally mellifluous fall guy.
'Ben Johnson's sumptuously poised delivery'
Graeme Broadbent excelled as the Commendatore in quite the most chilling descent into Hell I can recall, while the impressive Ian Beadle brought the cuckolded Masetto to seedy life, despite cuts to his role. (Don Ottavio, on the other hand, kept both of his showpiece arias, and tenor Ben Johnson's sumptuously poised delivery showed why.)
A well contrasted trio of women delivered the goods and then some. Ellie Laugharne was in radiant voice as the biddable Zerlina and Lauren Fagan was bright and forthright as Donna Anna; but the production's focus was strongly on Donna Elvira, a character whom Victoria Simmonds took from frump to martyr in the course of the evening. The mezzo's moving account of "Mi tradi", arguably the opera's supreme highlight, transcended the dreadful conditions - and a rare directorial misstep - thanks to its emotional truthfulness.
My only beef is with Lam, whose reading of the score was surprisingly old-fashioned: leisurely and romantic, with a piano continuo rather than a fortepiano and a predilection for singer-friendly tempos at the expense of dramatic pacing. Hence, even with signficant cuts and a tightly timed interval, the show still ran a full three hours.
There's a good chance that future performances will be less weather-beaten than this second night of the run, and fine singing allied to Irish's scenic resourcefulness and Platt's directorial wit (his carefully rationed sight gags include a sweet double-whammy with a life belt) make this a Don Giovanni to cherish. But pack a mac in case.
Don Giovanni runs in repertory at Opera Holland Park until 24 June.