Alessandro Talevi’s production of Don Giovanni for Opera North is like a puppet show. The first image is of a pair of red curtains in the middle of a large black drop. Leporello, the servant, appears between those red curtains and later many of the more difficult scenes to pitch in these post-feminist times are framed as a dialogue between the heads of two singers and the bodies of two dolls – flirting, cuddling, hitting and fleeing from each other.
Alistair Miles is a doleful but lusty giant side-kick to William Dazeley’s gaunt, barking Don. This rake is all about power and class and the compulsion to pursue, not the enjoyment of capture – we see him relax during seduction only for seconds at a time. And he is often seen above the action – framed in a window like a puppet assaulting Donna Anna (Meeta Raval) or commanding his ballroom guests from on high like a puppeteer. Madeleine Boyd’s costume design has its highs – the garish Teddy boy suits of the wedding guests and their dolls – and lows: the leather jacket which Elizabeth Atherton has to wear twice as Donna Elvira.
The purple walls of the one set are decorated with the faint outlines of faded female forms, like ghosts of women past. And the doors at the back keep opening to reveal sulphurous blazing lights, a vision of hell-fire. But this hell does not burn. Those purple walls turn grey at the end, in the graveyard scene when Don Giovanni comes across the statue of Donna Anna’s father the Commendatore. Michael Druiett is not he most terrifying of Commendatores but Talevi’s staging is inventive, the statue buried to his neck, like the semi-risen dead. And Tobias Ringborg’s reading of the score rolls damnation over Don Giovanni like a tank when the stone guest comes to dinner and the Commendatore begins to sing. There are allusions, to the story of Circe, as Don Giovanni turns the jealous husbands into pigs as he spins them a yarn, and to Richard III as the ghosts of all the women he has seduced and betrayed haunt the Don on his last night. His hell in the end is not one of eternal fire but a set of strings which hoist him up like a puppet. He is dragged up to hell, not down.
Atherton gets more tones – peevish, haunted, besotted, noble – out of Donna Elvira than Raval gets out of the mournful prude Donna Anna. And beside Andrew Miles, whose physical comedy is delicious, especially in his catalogue of the Don’s former conquests, the other star here is the diminutive Claire Wild, whose spirited Zerlina steals every scene she’s in, visibly orgasming in her aria – “si si si si” – over her prone husband Masetto as she insists she’ll take her punishment like a lamb.
More music-hall than Mozart, Talevi’s is a sexual, energetic production which the audience clearly relish, the cast returning for many bows.