Opera Reviews
24 January 2020
Untitled Document

The devil is in the detail

by Catriona Graham
Mozart: Don Giovanni
Edinburgh International Festival
August 2017

Iván Fischer’s production of Don Giovanni asks questions, like “Why would you describe it as a ‘staged concert’ anyway?” Such a pared-down performance throws the emphasis onto the words and music – and thus the moral ambiguity that permeates the opera.

For instance, the version of events which Donna Anna relates to Don Ottavio is slightly at odds with what has already been seen and heard on stage, and her revenge is about her father’s death, not her virtue. Jeremy Ovenden’s Don Ottavio is a pompous ass. Donna Elvira would bite Giovanni’s hand off if he signed up for monogamy with her. The balance between convenience and love in the marriage of Masetto and Zelina is never satisfactorily established, though it tilts towards convenience. And Leporello will do anything for gold. Giovanni himself? Well, whether it is the Italian language or the brown-ish jacket that does it, Christopher Maltman’s Giovanni seems to be channelling the TV incarnation of Salvo Montalbano.

All this takes place on a black stage with a couple of podia. At the start, eight young persons in grey body-stockings embellished with Greek drapery sit in a row along the front of the stage. During the overture, they take up statuesque positions. The students of the University of Theatre and Film Arts, Budapest create the furniture, props and chorus; eight girls enact Leporello’s book of Giovanni’s conquests; others form the wedding coach; the walls of a room; the guests at Giovanni’s ball, where the dancing becomes ever more bucolic. They also sing the chorus parts – at the end, the raw sound of the boys’ voices is very effective as the demons dragging Giovanni down to Hell.

As Leporello, José Fardilha wears double denim. When, in the second act, Giovanni changes clothes with Leporello, surely it should be the double denim, rather than Giovanni’s be-feathered hat. Whatever, the pair stride through the opera with a swagger. Fardilha’s singing is relaxed and conversational; Maltman combines seductive sweetness and laddish joshing.

Lucy Crowe’s elegant Elvira is, mostly, reserved, and sings deliciously. The bereaved Donna Anna, however, is an unyielding Laura Aikin, severe in black. Sylvia Schwartz (Zerlina), in knee-length frock, is a matter-of-fact bride to an older Masetto (Matteo Peirone). He bites his nails as Zerlina talks him round after her moment with Giovanni. Kristinn Sigmundsson is a decrepit Commendatore in life but towering marble in death.

Players from the Budapest Festival Orchestra leave the pit to be the on-stage band – both for the ball and during the dinner to which the Commendatore’s statue has been invited. For the latter, two body-stockings are printed with the music being played; there is much movement to expose and read the next part of the score. The performance is sprinkled with such amusing conceits.

Throughout, Giovanni appears the only one honest with himself. At the Commendatore’s invitation, he momentarily loses his sangfroid, before accepting the challenge. The closing ensemble sounds as if the survivors are trying to justify their actions to themselves.

Text © Catriona Graham
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