Launching Garsington Opera’s second season at its new home - the airy, Japanese-inspired pavilion set in the Getty family’s 2,500-acre Chilterns estate - this Don Giovanni, directed by Daniel Slater, is both refreshingly modern and occasionally lacklustre. Leslie Travers’s designs take the form of chic cubicle-type rooms, all white panels and aluminium trim, with equally minimalist white furniture to match. But the rooms are confusingly multi-use: the Commendatore’s bed is later appropriated by the serial philanderer Giovanni to seduce Zerlina; and though Ottavio is sitting at a computer in another room before the action begins, Leporello later occupies it to print out the famous list of his master’s conquests.
Some of the ideas - such as reversing Giovanni’s and Anna’s roles at the beginning, so that Anna becomes a teasing dominatrix, cuffing Giovanni to the dinner table - are hard to incorporate seamlessly into the drama; others, such as Giovanni’s serenade to (traditionally) Elvira’s maid, are weakly handled. But Elvira, Anna and Ottavio amusingly gatecrash Giovanni’s party in the guise of Wonder Woman and an S&M couple; Zerlina and her bridesmaids are colourfully blingy and scantily clad; and in the final scene Giovanni controls his huge LCD TV via his iPad while awaiting his guest. His punishment is not to descend into hell, but instead to languish in a lunatic asylum.
Sophie Bevan is dramatically expressive as Elvira, though sometimes sounds laboured. Grant Doyle and Joshua Bloom convey a macho camaraderie as Giovanni and Leporello, and Jesus Leon stands out for his Italianate Ottavio, as does Mary Bevan for her agile Zerlina. But the Garsington Opera Orchestra’s playing, under Douglas Boyd, is the biggest draw. Boyd coaxes exquisite balance from his players, and is passionately attuned both to the music’s turbulence and intimacy.