Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Chiaroscuro (ETO/Don Giovanni)

Mozart, Don Giovanni (Michael Rosewell, cond. Orchestra of Enlgish Touring Opera)
ETO’s current production of Don Giovanni, using an English version by Jeremy Sams, blends light and dark to great effect: rather than master seducer, DG is a rapist with quips about ‘forced entry’ amongst other conquests involving rather more persuasion than customary in productions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a company with ETO’s egalitarian mission of taking opera where it is not otherwise heard live, class politics are played up. Droit de seigneur as much as a confidence trick.  Don Giovanni (Nicholas Lester) sang and acted with a really vicious, violent edge, and combined with sometimes playful, warm relations with Leporello (Matthew Stiff). One of the greatest feats I have seen was Masetto singing whilst being shaved for his wedding day. More than a whiff of Breughel about the whole thing. 

Female voices were strong too, noticeably Zerlina (Lucy Hall), but Donna Elvira (Ania Jeruc), and Donna Anna (Gillian Ramm) were very fine too. Through the whole thing there wasn’t a single unsecure vocal note, and none of the singing was less than very good; much of it was excellent.  Indeed, musically, this is the most impressive thing I’ve seen from ETO; it held up quite happily with the previous evening’s Oedipe (with a flashy cast which included Tomlinson, Connolly et al.). Michael Rosewell got a huge amount of quite a modestly-sized touring band, but the score came up and grabbed you as it invariably does. The apparently standard business of the thundering opening chord and house lights going down simultaneously (well they did it at Glyndebourne in 2014 too). What is gained in dramatic effect is lost in the loss of silence at the start. DG might not need to be taken too seriously, but music that beautiful simply must be heard.
A single set (Anna Fleischle), two levels, three entrances on the ground floor. Fairly simple in design, but clever lighting (Guy Hoare). Some Klimt-esque decorations on the first floor (didn’t quite fathom what this was about). Director Lloyd Wood managed to fit a lot in to a small space without overcrowding.  
The translation works except, I think, at two points. The Commendatore’s attendance at dinner doesn’t quite work, doesn’t quite convey the malice of and a ghost booming at you in Italian. Exactly at what point DG ceases to be contemptuous and begins to become fearful, might be debated; in this version, it is as late as possible. Whilst humour inserted throughout contrasted with the darkness, made DG more human, and indeed comprehensible. Essentially Leporello in the final scene is too funny. And the fun might have stopped. The other time I found the text unsatisfactory was the catalogue aria, of which I shall never tire. Sams does much to restore the reputation of the ladies of Spain.  This politically-correct version doesn’t quite cut the mustard, even if it amuses and establishes DG as a total B.

Overall: seriously impressive. Don’t think touring means travelling light in terms of quality. 

Tours until 10th June (details).

Cast and team given here.

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