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Don Giovanni review at Waterperry Opera Festival – ‘exhilarating momentum’

Oskar McCarthy and Jerome Knox in Don Giovanni at Waterperry Opera Festival. Photo: Robert Workman
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This Don Giovanni, presented in a neo-classical stone amphitheatre, inaugurates the Waterperry Opera Festival in rural Oxfordshire. It shares the programme with a ‘drawing room’ production of Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park, Samuel Barber’s intimate A Hand of Bridge and a Peter Rabbit show for children.

Director Laura Attridge cites Giovanni as a symbol of “toxic male entitlement”, but still allows Jerome Knox to exude laid-back charm, carried on a taut vocal line. At least some of his power over Leporello is explained by the lingering kiss he bestows on his sidekick when he threatens to quit.

Any modern-dress production, however sharp, will underplay the power of Da Ponte’s social hierarchy, but there is compensation in seeing Oskar McCarthy record his master’s conquests on an iPhone. Athletically precise in both his body language and singing, McCarthy relishes the wit in Jeremy Sams’ translation of the libretto.

Eleanor Penfold, conflicted and constrained as Anna, and Anna Cavaliero, a captivating Zerlina, are both sopranos of sweetness and light. Alison Manifold’s spirited, if exasperated Elvira, is juicier and earthier in tone.

Ben Durrant makes an elegant, but refreshingly firm and forthright, Ottavio and Nicholas Morton’s Masetto – clearly besotted with Zerlina – brings arresting resonance and steel to his laddish interpretation. Christopher Webb, a Commendatore in progressive stages of post-mortem decay, produces a full-bodied, red-blooded sound.

With the orchestra and conductor on opposite sides of the theatre’s circular arena, there are moments of shaky ensemble, but Bertie Baigent leads a stylish musical performance. Helped by some judicious nips and tucks to the score, it sustains exhilarating momentum.

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Waterperry Opera Festival makes a confident start with this punchy, modern-dress Don Giovanni