Everyone knows what the name Don Giovanni means. Whether it’s Don Juan, Lothario, or Casanova, the name has become synonymous for a certain type of man.
2018 is the ideal time to stage Don Giovanni. As the recent Don Juan in Soho starring David Tennant showed, you can play around with the original text and incorporate contemporary references to engage with audiences who may be feeling slightly bruised by allegations about Kevin Spacey and other people they once admired.
During the first act finale, three characters Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Don Ottavio sing ‘Let us rescue the innocent.’ And the chorus scream out about the ‘horrible black crime’ and ‘arrogant cruelty.’ With #MeToo on everyone’s minds, the scene is ripe for some subversion of the original text.
Don Giovanni (William Dazeley) is smarmy and smug, but because we must be shown how he seduces, uses and abuses women and moves on, there is much charm to go with the smarm. And Dazeley conveys both, as he slinks across the stage, like a snake, drunk on his prey.
Elizabeth Atherton, Jennifer Davis and Kathryn Rudge play Donna Elvira, Donna Anna and Zerlina – three of the 2065 women who have become involved with the Don. Seduced or abused? Depends how you want to read it really as there is so much innuendo and, at times, child-like humour. Even the darker moments feel quite tame because they are often followed by something slightly silly.
The effect of this is that some of the edgier qualities are lost in the mix. One scene features two blancmanges jiggling like two breasts. Say no more.
For an opera to engage with you, particularly if you are first timer or someone who hasn’t seen many, there needs to be an emotional connection. In Madama Butterfly, the heroine’s plight is heartbreaking, La Boheme tears you apart because the love story is so involving, and the epic scale of Aida sweeps you along and leaves you feeling shattered yet moved.
Alessandro Talevi’s Don Giovanni is an enjoyable romp, but there is not enough shaking up of your expectations to offer any genuine surprises. The use of puppetry for some bawdy Punch and Judy style comic moments works for a while. But having strings attached to the protagonist leaves you wondering who is manipulating who here – and probably looked far cannier on the page than it does on the stage.
Madeline Boyd’s set is busy when Don is on the hunt and sparser and jet black during the production’s darker moments.
It is the costumes, though, which have the biggest impact, with an eclectic mix of Teddy Boy outfits, Madonna-esque attire, lavish vaudeville style boaters and, of course, smart suits for the seducer.
The members of the cast are all excellent and consistently deliver for the entire opera, their energy never wavering. But there is something hollow and empty in the tale of this unlikeable lothario that Opera North cannot seem to fill.
The innovative Kneehigh or the producers of Jerry Springer the Opera would have updated it and included some contemporary references. There is some time travelling but, unless you add some characters from today into the mix, it does feel like an unfulfilled promise. If Doctor Who never got out of her Tardis, you would feel boxed into the past.
If you are seeking something with more emotional heft, I recommend Madama Butterfly which is also at the Lowry.
Opera North’s Don Giovanni is at The Lowry until Friday 9 March.