Don Giovanni: Behind the curtain

Don Giovanni: Behind the curtain
Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Pablo González
Glyndebourne, Lewis. 28 October 2016

An interesting new departure for the Glyndebourne Tour is ‘Don Giovanni: Behind the curtain’, with the subtitle of ‘The essence of opera revealed’. Using the cast and orchestra of the real thing, but with a ‘community choir’ replacing the chorus for the final scene, this was an informal introduction to opera in general, and Don Giovanni in particularly. Created by presenter Paul Rissmann and the revival director Lloyd Wood, this was a lively and informal educational event.

The overture started as usual but then, during the opening scene, Paul Rissmann bounced on stage to interrupt the proceedings to start his explanations and descriptions, including short chats with the singers, director and conductor, helpfully revealing the real people behind the roles. The evening continued with a well-chosen series of extracts from the opera, fully staged and in dress, concluding with the whole of the opera’s dramatic finale.

Given the nature of the event, I had hoped that the audience would be mostly young people, but I saw very few of them. Indeed, the audience didn’t seem that different from the usual Glyndebourne tour, one indication of their prior knowledge and experience of the opera was their obvious recognition of the “I know that tune” bit. And that rather highlighted the problem that I had with the show – who was it aimed at? The excellent initial descriptions of the different types of recitative accompaniment, and other similar technical matters (aided by clever videos), seemed aimed at newcomers to opera.

Paul Rissmann’s presentational style also seemed to be aimed at a far younger audience. With more than a nod towards what I imagine to be the style of holiday camp children’s entertainers, it came close to being patronising to an adult audience. But other aspects did seemed to be aimed more at the experienced audience, who may well have found some of the ‘games’ a bit tiresome, not least getting us all to sing ‘tra-la-la’ and watching the orchestra throwing bits of paper at each other, for reasons that now completely escape me. That said, it was a difficult balancing act and deserves praise for happening at all.

During the tour (alongside the real Don Giovanni), the ‘community choirs’ involved seem to be pretty clued-up groups, with the likes of the Canterbury Christ Church University Chamber Choir, the Norwich and Plymouth Philharmonic Choruses, and the Woking Choral Society. For the Glyndebourne première, the choir was from the cast the 2013 Glyndebourne community production of Imago, drawn from local people. Their friends and relatives showed loyal support, and the two members who spoke were enthusiastic about Glyndebourne’s community initiatives.

My review of the full performance of Don Giovanni can be seen here.

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