Glyndebourne: Don Giovanni

Glyndebourne: Don Giovanni
Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Pablo González
Glyndebourne, Lewis. 30 October 2016

Following their ‘posh frocks and picnics’ summer opera Festival, Glyndebourne hit the road during the autumn taking a reduced Touring Opera programme to places like Milton Keynes, Canterbury, Norwich, Woking, and Plymouth in November and December. They start the tour with around six performances at Glyndebourne itself, with a more relaxed dress code than the Festival and without the 90 minute dinner interval. With a slightly less elevated cast accompanied by the ‘Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra’ (rather than the Festival’s usual team of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and London Philharmonic Orchestra), the sets and production are otherwise essentially the same as in the Festival. This year they are touring a revival of Jonathan Kent’s 2010 Festival production of Don Giovanni (with Revival Director Lloyd Wood) and a new production of Madame Butterfly.

I didn’t see the 2010 production of Don Giovanni, or this summer’s Festival revival, so for me this was a new show. Set in a post-Mussolini Italy, the broody set, designed by Paul Brown, is focused on a massive central cube that presents all four of its sides, plus different incarnations of the central space, to the audience. It is a powerful image, but not without potential issues. Its overpowering presence centre stage pushes most of the action to the front or the side of the stage: no bad thing in itself, but giving a rather cramped feeling on the large Glyndebourne stage. When the box opened to reveal several different, mostly interior, settings within, I wasn’t too sure whether the sight lines would have allowed those not in such a privileged seat as I had to see all the action – similarly with anything happening to the side. I guess many of the touring venues don’t have quite such a circular auditorium shape as Glyndebourne itself, so perhaps this will not be a problem elsewhere. The benefit, aided by the lighting, was an impressive visual image of  monumental Italian baroque buildings with darkened streets and corners, a fitting mood for the sinister goings-on of the piece.

The production fitted the Italian scenario well, although the debauchery of the party scene was a little out of character. The conclusion was an interesting take of the appearance of the Commandatore, in the case as a corpse rather than a statue. I didn’t quite get why Don Giovanni suddenly threw a chair away and tipped over the dining table, although the latter did allow the corpse to rise from his grave underneath.

Vocally, this was one of the finest casts I have heard in opera in recent years. Duncan Rock was a most impressive Don, with Brandon Cedel providing some lively comedy (and fine singing) as Leporello. His three female victims were Ana Maria Labin and Magdalena Molendowska as Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, and Louise Alder as a delightfully skittish Zerlina. Andrii Goniukov was visually and vocally imposing as Il Commendatore, notably in the final cataclysmic scene, while Božidar Smiljanić revealed the conflicts in the much-abused but inwardly strong Masetto, as compared to Anthony Gregory’s rather wimpish Don Ottavio. There were very few moments when overly operatic vibrato interfered, and all singers demonstrated clear articulation and enunciation. The surtitle translations were sensible, but were occasionally out of sync.

I was impressed with Pablo González’s conducting and musical direction, drawing stylistically appropriate playing from the Tour Orchestra. He made very good use of silence at times. Ashok Gupta’s, continuo playing on fortepiano was inventive, stylistic and supportive. One nice touch, which added to the drama, was that the overture started suddenly as the house lights blacked out, stopping conversations in mid flow. I wish more operas would start like this, rather than the usual curious practice of applauding a conductor (that very few people can see) for managing to walk on without mishap.

In conjunction with Don Giovanni, Glyndebourne also included a new venture with Don Giovanni: Behind the Curtain, reviewed here.

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