Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Don Giovanni

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte
Opera North
The Lowry, Salford
07 March 2018 to 10 March 2018

The trio of productions from Opera North currently visiting The Lowry are being marketed under the theme of ‘Fatal Passions’. Yet, based on the first two productions, the operas have an unexpected resonance with the on-going widespread concern about women being exploited by men in positions of power.

Serial seducer Don Giovanni (William Dazeley) may finally have gone too far. Desperate to seduce Donna Anna (Jennifer Davis) he has killed her father and is now on the run. But although he is a wanted man Don Giovanni is recklessly incapable of curbing his appetites and continues to pursue women, to the dismay of his servant Leporello (John Savournin). Finally Don Giovanni’s arrogance is his undoing and he issues a dinner invitation that has disastrous consequences. 

We have already seen a particularly unpleasant Lieutenant Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and, while this production of Don Giovanni has toured before, I don’t recall it being quite so hardcore in its depiction of how the title character treats women. In the opening sequence Don Giovanni’s rough treatment of Donna Anna is closer to abuse than to seduction.

William Dazeley makes clear that Don Giovanni’s contempt is not limited to women. Dazeley plays the role as a nihilist who feels respect for no-one, including the Gods. Don Giovanni is often perceived as a self-aware rogue who can be admired for having the courage to challenge the Gods, but, in this production, this refusal to repent is played as blind arrogance that leads to an inevitable downfall. This production finds little to admire in the title character, who is shown throughout as a bully, always quick to resort to violence as long as he has a knife or a gun and his victim is unarmed.

While this is a very modern production, director Alessandro Talevi also pays tribute to the origins of the opera. At the time when the opera was written Don Giovanni was not taken seriously by wider society and was perceived as little more than a comic Punch and Judy character. This is acknowledged in Madeleine Boyd’s set that has a frame-like a puppet theatre centre-stage. It allows Alessandro Talevi to illustrate Don Giovanni’s nasty manipulative aspects, as other characters are transformed into puppets performing at his whim - which is also bloody funny.  Don Giovanni’s sterile lifestyle is made clear when he is shown to be a slave to, rather than in control of, his passions as his final damnation sees him, too, transformed into a puppet.

One does not look to opera for logic, which is just as well because Talevi re-imagines Don Giovanni as a randy time traveller with a Tardis-style device that makes him capable of kidnapping a wedding party from 1955 and bringing them back to his palace in 1891. It doesn’t make a bit of sense, but allows the mighty Opera North chorus to goof around in gorgeous 1950s costumes. In a nice touch Don Giovanni travels forward in time for his final confrontation with the Gods, to the day on which the opera is being performed at The Lowry.

Opera North’s current production of Don Giovanni demonstrates that an art-form centuries old can be relevant to present-day concerns. 

Reviewer: David Cunningham


Comment by Robert Beale

This production won the Manchester Theatre Award for opera first time round in 2012, and rightly so. I, too, thought the heartless violence of the Don's so-called seductions had been turned up a bit for this revival, though Alessandro Talevi's production has so many clever features that you cotton on to something new each time you see it (this was my third time). One thing I don't remember from before is the precise dating of the time-travelling scenes (though the point that we're seeing the all-time archetypal sexual abuser is very clear anyway): I got the peasants' period as mid-1950s before, but thought the upper-crust people's dress looked more 1850s than 1890s, and now we're told the dates are 29 April 1955 and 16 June 1891 - any particular point about that? I couldn't see one.

William Dazeley was as good as ever as the dirty Don, and John Savournin is a brilliant Leporello. While Jennifer Davis, in her Opera North debut, made a big impression as really powerful dramatic soprano (Donna Anna), and Elizabeth Atherton was again an intensely human Donna Elvira, with James Platt, another ON debutant, a resonantly bearded Commendatore, the Zerlina of Kathryn Rudge was almost a show-stealer. The 'I'll have what she's having' interpretation of Batti, batti was a real hoot before, and she and Ross McInroy (Masetto) went at it with considerable gusto this time.