Don Giovanni review – obsession, distress and danger in uneven new production
Mariame Clément’s thoughtful staging brings depth and insights but feels, at times, at odds with the score’s sensuality and demonic fire. In the pit, conductor Evan Rogister favours speed over dramatic weight.
Each age sees its concerns reflected in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, more acutely, perhaps, than in any other opera. “Once a figure of rebellion against conventions,” director Mariame Clément writes in a recent Guardian article, “he has come to embody what many rebel against today. In today’s world,” she adds, “many people would consider Giovanni himself a patriarchal figure whose statue they would gladly topple.” And indeed the first thing we see in her new Glyndebourne production is video footage of his statue being hauled to the ground as Leporello looks on.
What follows, however, is altogether more uncertain. Clément acknowledges that this most complex of operas admits a multiplicity of interpretations, and she is often far from simplistic in her approach to its ironies and ambiguities. But what she offers can also be anodyne and fussy, at odds on occasion with the sensuality and demonic fire we find in the score, despite the belching flames that here accompany Giovanni’s eventual descent to hell.
The setting is a hotel where all the characters are guests, and where Zerlina (Victoria Randem) and Masetto (Michael Mofidian), are having their hen and stag parties – though the fact that they are not yet married in some ways dilutes the threat, moral as well as sexual, posed to their relationship by Andrey Zhilikovsky’s charismatic if predatory Don. Clément dispenses with the fashionable trope that Anna (Venera Gimadieva) really desires Giovanni, though, in a twist to the narrative, she is now sleeping with Oleksiy Palchykov’s Ottavio, to the Commendatore’s (Jerzy Butrin) evident concern.
Mikhail Timoshenko’s sympathetic if conflicted Leporello, meanwhile, seething with resentment, is genuinely distressed at the thought of his own wife being subject to Giovanni’s attentions, but is also uneasily fascinated by the multiple photos of breasts – a horribly objectified visual list of his master’s conquests – that appear on the walls during the Catalogue Aria. There are too many extras wandering round when they’re not really needed, however, while Ruzan Mantashyan’s Elvira, portrayed as conventionally obsessive here, makes her first appearance way too early, searching for Giovanni among the hotel guests during the Anna/Ottavio duet.
Zhilikovsky sounds as attractive as he looks, which makes him very dangerous, and Timoshenko is terrific with his irony and wounded pride. Mofidian and Randem are similarly outstanding: he’s sweet, affectionate and touching despite the bluster; her Vedrai Carino is meltingly lovely. Gimadieva, however, seemed oddly cautious throughout. Mantashyan is impressive, if steely in Mi Tradì, while Palchykov makes a strikingly assertive Ottavio albeit vocally somewhat constricted. Conductor Evan Rogister hurtles through the score, often favouring breakneck speed over dramatic weight. Despite occasional slips in stage-pit coordination, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment played for him with sinewy leanness of tone and admirable clarity.