Don Giovanni review at Pleasance Theatre, London – ‘a provocative idea’
Directors of Mozart’s Don Giovanni are often seduced into seeking out a plausible explanation for the title character’s unrepentant womanising.
For the all-female creative team behind HeadFirst Production’s Don Giovanni, Mozart’s anti-hero is a sociopath playing a deceitful game that he knows will destroy him. The female characters are often complicit in his game – how could they not be, when Don Giovanni understands their desires all too well?
Director Sophie Gilpin and her colleagues want to explore the “fine line between seduction and sexual manipulation”, a provocative idea in an era when every news cycle seems to turn up another high-profile serial sexual abuser. Yet in framing Don Giovanni as a dark catalogue of sexual conquests, the production diminishes the wit that is also part and parcel of this opera.
The opening night performance at the Pleasance Theatre was dogged by bad luck, including a soprano (Elizabeth Roberts) suffering an asthma attack, an instrumentalist beset by a coughing fit, and backstage activities that were distractingly audible. Meanwhile, the staging advantages of Anna Bonomelli’s rotating set are diminished by the fact that performers have to dodge the hands of the giant clock at the centre.
As Giovanni, Matthew Sprange has the braggadocio but not the swagger, though his serenade to a naïve maid is charming. His opportunistic servant, Leporello (Samuel Pantcheff) offers a confident rendition of the famous aria that enumerates his employer’s many conquests.
Caroline Modiba is a fine Donna Anna, her soprano shining in the aria she sings to her long-suffering fiance, Don Ottavio (Jorge Navarro Colorado) in the second act. As Zerlina, Sian Cameron shows a young woman torn between her new husband, Masetto (Ian Beadle), and the alluring Giovanni, while Roberts effectively portrays the conflicted Donna Elvira. The three women have their victory over Don Giovanni in the end, but it is an ambiguous triumph.