Watching Rufus Norris’ rather cartoony pageant of a production, it’s hard not to think (with one eyebrow raised) that this Don Giovanni has been ‘a very naughty boy’. Norris’ is an interpretation that invites such responses. This is a world where kitsch rules, where love is represented by heart shaped helium balloons, metallic pink for a girl and blue for a boy. It’s also a world in which rakes become rapists; Norris’ is a blunt take on a piece that for all its troubling sexual politics perhaps deserves a more subtle interpretation.
Based on the Don Juan legend, Mozart’s Don Giovanni follows the sexual exploits of the eponymous anti-hero as he sleeps his way down into hell. Here is a deviant to rival Faust, a man whose libidinous longings and salacious subversions provide a cathartic purging for all good God fearing folk.
In the 1800s both men served an Aristotelian purpose but in the modern world only Faust’s desperate search for knowledge is still palatable; Don Giovanni’s own rebellion is now much more problematic. How do you best represent a man who is that most vilified of contemporary criminals – a sexual predator?
Norris’ approach to the character is a crude one: his Don Giovanni drugs his victims and manhandles them at every turn. There is little charm in Iain Paterson’s manipulator (though his voice is exemplary). Perhaps today this is the only way to depict such a villain but it also seems like the easy option: evil is never as dangerous as when it has a smile on its face.
Still, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had elsewhere in Jeremy Sam’s utilitarian translation, which is full of down to earth idiomsa nd has the audience giggling at the audacity of a libretto that rhymes ‘purloin’ with ‘sirloin’ and contains the phrase ‘Thanks for sharing’ in it.
Ian MacNeil’s disjointed set of diagonal rooms and staircases feels scrappy and Genevieve Ellis’ disparate costumes do little to bring cohesion to piece. But on occasion the contemporary style is justified. At one point Leporello catalogues his master’s conquests via a PowerPoint presentation that would make any middle manager proud: pie charts and graphs spin before our eyes before our initial laughter turns disgust as figures become faces and descriptions turn from dismissive to derogatory.
Norris’s staging may lack finesse but it’s not short of dazzle. In giving Mozart’s seductive opera the de Kooning treatment he has delivered a production that is often as enjoyable as it is brash.
The performances as a whole are strong, the cast capably handling Mozart’s devilishly complex score. As Don Giovanni’s put upon servant, Darren Jeffery displays some delicious comic timing but his performance is also laced with gravitas and his face is as expressive as his rich, caramel voice. Sarah Redgwick’s scorned Donna Elvira displays a chutzpah that would terrify even the most dedicated lothario while Katherine Broderick conveys Donna Anna’s glacial grief with real power. Matthew Best makes the most of his cameo role and is magnificent as her father and Don Giovanni’s ghostly nemesis, the Commendatore.