Don Giovanni - Opera Holland Park, 30 June 2010
Set Don Giovanni ‘correctly’ in seventeenth century Seville and its social subtleties will fly over the heads of half the spectators. Bring it too far up to date and its mores won’t make sense. For an audience reared on BBC bonnet drama, Stephen Barlow’s ingenious update to late Victorian London makes perfect sense. Years of Pride, Prejudice and Nicholas Nickleby have trained us to tell a nineteenth century oik from a toff at twenty paces.
Nicholas Garrett’s suave top-hatted Don is half Sherlock Holmes, half Mr Darcy, a cold, self-possessed cad with the ruthless ease of those born to rule. The common coachman's boots and whip of Matthew Hargreaves' gangly Leporello are like his resentment, inadequately concealed beneath commodious tweeds.
Bursting to break free from their imprisoning corsets, none of the women can keep their hands off Don Giovanni. Donna Anna’s elegant silks (a cunningly chopped-up sari) distinguish her from Donna Elvira’s country-mouse cottons. The gin-soaked lower classes don't quite know their place - the great social revolution has begun, and Zerlina, a buttoned up Jane Eyre with schoolmarm glasses, is already a cut above. On such distinctions was Empire built. Once it’s clear who everyone is, the action flows smoothly, the plot proceeds logically. Even someone who’d never seen Don Giovanni before would have no trouble following this one.
There’s only one set, a sort of spare and gloomy hotel reception, with mirror and fireplace cleverly incorporated into the Holland House wall. A gallery of identical Don Giovanni portraits hangs to one side, and not just for decoration – in a cleverly-managed ending, the Commendatore emerges from one, Dorian Grey style. If the production has a failing, it’s that there’s never any clear sense of place, particularly of movement from one location to another.
Singing ranged from not-bad upwards, with Nicholas Garret at the top end. His baritone is decidedly on the light side, but it’s elegant and accurate. Ana James’s Donna Anna and Claire Wild’s Zerlina were the pick of the rest. Conductor Robert Dean proved that speed and pace are not synonymous as he zipped sluggishly through the score.