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Don Giovanni review at Opera Holland Park, London – ‘all at sea’

Lauren Fagan, Victoria Simmonds and Ben Johnson in Opera Holland Park’s production of Don Giovanni. Photo: Robert Workman Lauren Fagan, Victoria Simmonds and Ben Johnson in Opera Holland Park’s production of Don Giovanni. Photo: Robert Workman
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Last November Oliver Mears set Northern Ireland Opera’s production of Mozart’s dark-toned comedy, Don Giovanni – originally located in an unnamed Spanish city – on board a 1960s ocean-going liner. Timing indicates that it was pure coincidence that Oliver Platt and his designer Neil Irish similarly place their production for Opera Holland Park on a liner, this time in the 1930s.

Irish’s clever and adaptable set – a row of cabin doors which opens up to provide larger internal spaces – is one of the finest seen at this venue, and his costumes pinpoint class and period brilliantly.

There are some skilfully realised ensemble scenes – even if at times the staging’s detail threatens to overwhelm the main action.

But just as in Belfast the central concept hampers the show. While one can imagine Giovanni evading his pursuers in a large nocturnal city, on board a liner his task is that much harder. Instead of the famous statue-in-a-graveyard scene, Giovanni and Leporello come across the Commendatore’s body covered by a sheet in a larder. In the climactic supper scene, the notorious seducer is not dragged down to hell but throws himself overboard. None of this really works.

There are worthwhile performances nevertheless. Lauren Fagan’s Donna Anna possesses strength and resilience, if not quite enough accuracy. Victoria Simmonds’ Donna Elvira combines edginess with determination – though how is it that Giovanni fails to recognise her undisguised in broad daylight? Ellie Laugharne makes a sparky Zerlina, well partnered by Ian Beadle’s dangerously volatile Masetto.

Ben Johnson’s Don Ottavio is suavely delivered and John Savournin’s saturnine Leporello matches well with Ashley Riches’ dour, bullying Giovanni.

But it’s in Dane Lam’s vital conducting and the clean-edged playing of the City of London Sinfonia that the performance shines most brightly.

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Despite strong singing and excellent conducting, Oliver Platt’s production is all at sea