It is usually a sinister portent when there is stage business during the overture. So it proved on November 6, London Coliseum, for English National Opera’s new production of Don Giovanni. Rufus Norris is an award-winning director in the theatre but this was his début in an opera house. It should be asked: why must we pay his college fees?
He has yet to learn to respect the composer and not interrupt an aria with stage business. Perhaps the management should have asked him before he was engaged: 1) does he like opera and 2) does he like Don Giovanni?
The curtain was up from the start revealing a suspended contraption – something like a railway track of a circle – whose sole raison d’être was to hang some balls on it in the act one finale (by which time we knew whose balls we would like to see hanging there). Don Giovanni ambles on and promptly takes his trousers off (Oh mores, oh Robertson Hare!). Later scenery was wall-like slabs that moved around. One of them removed into a small room complete with gas or electric fire and wash basin. Why? Videos abound. The two big chords at the start of the overture were punctured by blinding flashes of light. The Commentator was no statue but pedestrian. Not long after the Don had disappeared down a the trap door, the rest of the principles popped up through it. I heard a neighbour in the stalls remark “this is f****** nonsense”.
The orchestral playing and musical director was in the safe hands of Kirill Karabits (the programme did not disclose his nationality but did tell us that the is musical director of the Bournemouth Symphony).
Good singing came from Matthew Best as the Commentators and from Andrew Sherratt, a fine Leprello. Iain Peters was a good Don but charmless – I doubt if his shag count would have exceeded a dozen. The three ladies had their moments but on the whole this was mal canto rather than bel. Do singers today never listen and learn from singers of the past? They wobble a lot and have little sense of a lyric line: Katherine Broderick (Anna). Sarah Redgwick (Elivra) and Sarah Tynan (Zerlina). Is it explained by their having to sing so loud because of the vastness of the stage? But then a pianissimo by a well produced voice can project to the back of the house.
Poor Giovanni, since he doesn’t conclude his rape of Anna, his seduction of Zerlina is interrupted and he doesn’t fancy Elvira anymore, his tally of 1003 seems unlikely to augment.