★★★ | English Touring Opera’s Don Giovanni – Sheffield Theatres and National Tour:
Lust, passion, revenge, deceit, drama and sex all combine in the gloom of the subterranean tunnels in Don Giovanni, the classic opera, performed by English Touring Opera.Picture credit – Richard Hubert Smith
Opening with him fleeing the scene of a murder, Don Giovanni is pursued by his past, including the bitter lover he jilted, the bride-to-be he seduces (along with her jealous husband-to-be), and also by the daughter of his latest victim who seeks to redress the balance of his wrongdoings. This opera is brimming with drama from the passionate opening bars of the overture to the supernatural denouement. Part thriller and part comedy, the opera is ambiguous enough for you to decide whether Don Giovanni is a murder, philanderer and criminal, or whether he is a hero of defiance who refuses to allow his behaviour to be governed by social convention and authority.
Mozart’s opera has shades of both light and dark in it, with delicate comic touches and some witty one liners buried in the brooding tale of lust, murder, insatiable sexual appetites, betrayal and revenge. Sung in English, this version is relatively accessible and is presented with subtitles to ensure that even an opera novice can get the most out of the story.
Out of the cast, George von Bergen was as charismatic as Don Giovanni himself in his portrayal of the titular character, with his booming baritone voice and cocksure swagger fleshing out the anti-hero of the piece, whilst Matthew Stiff provided much needed comic relief in his cheeky turn as Leporello, Giovanni’s servant.
The static set design worked well, with the oppressively tall structure and a metal staircase dominating the stage and to some extent, blurring the time frame of the piece, making the themes of the opera feel simultaneously traditional but still relevant. Equally, the themes of above and below ground level intimated by the catacombs remind the audience that this is an opera which also deals with the issue of class and Anna Fleischle’s design reflects that nicely. Guy Hoare’s lighting design is subtle and unobtrusive throughout, but yet explodes into dramatic and assertive visuals which not only accompany, but utterly enhance the culmination of the story in the closing scenes. Musically, Mozart’s score was beautifully played by the English Touring Opera’s orchestra and the addition of live music always enhances a piece such as this.
Opera is often shunned and thought of as being rather elitist, but the reality is very different. Don Giovanni pulls together the darker themes of opera, enhances it with some lighter moments, but which retains all of the passion, power and dramatics one would expect.
English Touring Opera is currently at Sheffield Theatres , before continuing on its extensive UK tour until the 10th June 2016 with a trio of operas – Don Giovanni, Iphigenie En Tauride and Pia De’ Tolomei. For more information and to book tickets, visit www.englishtouringopera.org.uk