The director Martin Constantine has managed to create a brilliantly witty, surprisingly moving and totally engaging production of Mozart and Da Ponte’s great classic version of the legendary story of that sexually provocative libertine Don Giovanni. The production moves seamlessly and with great energy from overture to the conclusion. The cast is obviously completely committed to what they are asked to do, and quite rightly. For once a “concept” production of a classic opera really works. I loved it and I know that the entire audience on the night that I attended was totally rapt. They were also very responsive to the humour of the production as well as to the glorious music. This is an intelligent, funny and emotionally engaging evening of opera, a real fusion of music and drama.
Perhaps it is because the director, Martin Constantine, has not simply imposed an updated conception onto the piece arbitrarily but has actually found a completely unexpected, somewhat preposterous modern parallel for this tale that actually works. Constantine also has an understanding of the subtexts of this opera that enables him to develop the conception with great intelligence. This is a production that is far from conventional and yet truly resonates with the original.
In the era of “Me Too”, Don Giovanni has become a superannuated star of the boxing world. This also enables Constantine to portray the underlying bullying and violence of the story and also the sadism of the behaviour of Giovanni and other men in this world. The setting and how the original libretto is echoed keep one totally alert throughout the evening, which somehow gives freshness to the opera. The setting, of course, is not Giovanni’s castle but his gym. I took it that this was a reflection of his earlier success, his continuing reputation and also an investment now that he is clearly somewhat superannuated and will need to have an income as he gets older. During the overture, we witness the machismo and sexual bullying of the world of Don Giovanni and are introduced to the servants of the gym who stand-in for the original peasants. We also see Don Giovanni himself in action, costumed in a bathrobe and towel and still glorying in his physique.
Fortunately, Ivan Ludlow not only has the physical presence to pull off this approach but also has the vocal resources and the acting ability for this role. He is in fine physical shape and can also convey the seductive charm and urgent sexiness of the character. We follow his adventures and betrayals, his smooth seductions, with complete belief.
And that is the crux of this surprising production. Once you accept the “given” of this new setting for the tale, it makes consistent sense and works perfectly. Also, there is real humour as well as pathos to be experienced. The opera is given here in English for the immediacy of reaction and Amanda Holden has made a clever translation. There are surtitles for the arias but the recitatives are treated with completely appropriate drama and conveyed clearly. The three main women are uniformly convincing as personalities, completely differentiated as characters and sing their music beautifully. Paula Sides as Anna has the ice, the hauteur, the elegance, the self-possession and the anger she requires; Claire Egan musters great emotional conviction as the betrayed “wife”, Elvira, in pursuit of a man she loves to hate and hates to love yet cannot get out of her soul; and Llio Evans is a superb, enchanting Zerlina, the perfect soubrette, knowing yet artful and delightful, and a little bit masochistic.
As with Ivan Ludlow’s Don Giovanni, the men are also very strong, though I have to give a special mention to Emyr Wyn Jones as Leporello. His voice is excellent and his big moments on stage – the Catalogue Aria, miming to Don Giovanni’s serenade in Act Two, his fear of the statue – are all brilliantly sung and conveyed. William Morgan’s bluff, forthright, pained Don Ottavio and Matthew Durkan’s appealing Masetto must also be singled out. Lukas Jakobski, who was a strong Henry VIII earlier in the season in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena is the Commendatore here and his vocal and physical presence are splendid, not to mention his remarkable makeup when he becomes the statue.
The chorus is excellent and each member of it seems to have a worked-out personality; while the excellent and sympathetic conducting of Thomas Blunt and the orchestral playing are simply first class.
Full praise must also be given to the set and costume design by Will Holt and to the consistently atmospheric lighting design by Tim Mitchell which adds greatly to the atmosphere at several key moments in the opera and especially to the finale when Don Giovanni is confronted by the statue and dragged to hell.
his production of Don Giovanni is another real triumph for Longborough.
- Music Wolfgang Amadeuse Mozart
- Libretto Lorenzo da Ponte
- Conductor Thomas Blunt
- Director Martin Constantine
- Photography: Matthew Williams-Ellis
- Cast includes: Ivan Ludlow, Emyr Wyn Jones, Claire Egan, Paula Sides, William Morgan, Llio Evans, Matthew Durkan, Lukas Jakobski
- Venue Longborough Festival Opera House
- Until 20th of July 2019
- 5pm - 8.45pm (including 90-minute dining interval)