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Don Giovanni review at the London Coliseum – ‘musically authoritative, theatrically fascinating’  

Christopher Purves and Caitlin Lynch in Don Giovanni at the London Coliseum. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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English National Opera launches its 2016/17 season with a new staging of Mozart’s dark comedy – according to the website Operabase currently No.10 on the list of the world’s most performed operas, and thus a crucial addition to the repertory following the failure of Rufus Norris’s inscrutable 2010 production, which managed just one revival.

It’s the work of ENO regular Richard Jones – always a stimulating and stage-savvy director – working alongside conductor Mark Wigglesworth, until recently the company’s music director.

Given the musical results here, especially in terms of the orchestral playing – which is immaculately balanced both internally and in relation to the stage, and full of subtlety as well as dramatic punch – one wishes he could be induced to return. With playing of this calibre, ENO’s musicians sound like the finest opera orchestra in the country. Tempo choices all worked perfectly too.

Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes suggest something like 1950s Spain. Paul Steinberg’s sets are concerned above all with doors. Apart from a couple of beds – one for Don Giovanni and Donna Anna in the opening scene, for instance, plus another for her father the Commendatore and his partner across the hall – the visuals focus almost entirely on characterless rooms and drab corridors with various doors leading off them.

Sometimes these open to reveal books – multiple copies of Leporello’s catalogue of his boss’ conquests – but elsewhere they are portals leading to some unseen sexual connection: in the overture, for instance, a succession of women (plus one man) slip round Leporello to briefly enter a door with Giovanni before emerging and slipping away again.

The brutality and violence inherent in the piece is not shirked. Giovanni and Anna share some dangerous sexual fantasy game which – disturbingly – involves a knife. Masetto’s anger with Zerlina is borderline terrifying. Giovanni’s lack of conscience is as apparent in his physical violence as in his instant seductions followed by just walking away.

The production is uniformly well acted, but crucially Jones never forgets that this is essentially a comic opera – and not just nominally so. I’m not going to give away the final twist, but it’s as clever and thought-provoking as all the rest.

This is an evening of high vocal standards, too, matching the fine acting performances. Christopher Purves is a mature Giovanni and sometimes underpowered, but you can understand his fatal fascination; his double act with Clive Bayley’s leering Leporello is faultless. Caitlin Lynch offers Donna Anna some real vocal personality. Allan Clayton’s high-definition tenor makes Don Ottavio unusually memorable. Christine Rice is consistently striking as a perpetually troubled Donna Elvira, though the role lies high for her. Nicholas Crawley makes his mark as an unstable Masetto, while Mary Bevan’s Zerlina is sung with pristine precision and James Creswell’s Commendatore possesses absolute vocal authority.

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A musically authoritative, theatrically fascinating presentation of Mozart’s dark comedy