Former Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Michael Boyd has collaborated with Garsington’s artistic director, conductor Douglas Boyd (no relation) before, though this time the result is not as successful; but then Mozart’s tragicomedy is a notoriously tricky piece to bring off.
A work that explores – though certainly does not excuse – the gender politics of its own day (1787), it’s certainly resonant. The problem is that this modern-dress staging to designs by Tom Piper doesn’t really make clear who, what or where the central characters are.
Jonathan McGovern’s Giovanni is an artist. Half-amiable, half-gleefully violent (mostly towards David Ireland’s robust Leporello), he is seemingly an abstract expressionist, flinging a couple of pots of paint at his latest canvas during the overture. Reproductions of old masters later form the background to the serial seducer/rapist’s unwholesome activities, with either Giovanni or some of his victims adding their own touches to the copies. Yet Giovanni’s identity and context remain at least as elusive as ever.
Musically, we’re on stronger ground, with a taut account of the score delivered by the Garsington Opera Orchestra under Boyd’s sure-footed direction: one notable deviation from the standard version is that the performance drops the final scene following Don Giovanni’s damnation – something Mozart himself may have carried out in his Viennese revival in 1788, though the evidence is inconclusive.
Elsewhere there’s a lyrical Don Ottavio from Trystan Llyr Griffiths, an aggressive Masetto from Thomas Faulkner and a spirited Elvira from Sky Ingram – though the other female leads are less securely delivered.