Michael Boyd’s concept for Garsington’s Don Giovanni equated the libertine’s rejection of morality at a time of great social change with a “modern” artist breaking the rules, defacing paintings and indulging in performance art.
This started with the usual pre-opera seduction of Donna Elvira taking place in the overture, the woman enthusiastically joining in and becoming part of the Don’s garish, sexually obvious, art work. Once the story got underway this analogy continued with the murder of the Commendatore being figurative – spraying him with red paint.
The whole of the action took place in designer Tom Piper large artist’s studio which had a variety of sculptures and paintings, some of which were used as vehicles for graffiti including a large penis, the backdrop for the attempted rape of Zerlina and as moving screens to frame and manipulate the drama.
Unfortunately, Jonathan McGovern’s Don looked more like a well-fed, Essex bloke rather than a charming seducer and certainly not an aristocrat to contrast with the peasants. His singing was strong and secure but lacked finesse which matched the characterisation if not the music. David Ireland’s Leporello was another bloke but the similarity in the two men’s stature and also voices made the necessary social distinction too blurred.
Mireille Asselin, Camilla Titinger, Trystan Llŷr Griffiths, Sky Ingram, Jonathan McGovern and Thomas Faulkner
No such problem with Trystan Llŷr Griffiths’ gloriously sung Ottavio. The rising young Pembrokeshire tenor delighted with his two exquisite arias, in which he demonstrated great sensitivity and control, pairing technical flair and emotional elegance. This combination of strength and emotion was also most evident in Sky Ingram’s Donna Elvira. Modern in gesture and stage action with a convincing interpretation of the troubled jilted “wife”.
While generally another strong soprano performance came from Camilla Titinger as Donna Anna but there were some occasional eye-brow raising moments in her demanding arias.
Two vocally pleasing performances from Mireille Asselin as Zerlina and Thomas Faulkner as Masetto provided the dramatic contrast to the aristocratic characters, although, again the directorial characterisation lacked sufficient distinction.
The concept of artist and studio started to peter out as the opera unfolded which was partly why Paul Whelan’s Commendatore, while sung powerfully, lacked goose bump chills. Similarly, simply wheeling the Don to the back of the stage as if into the studio’s storage room was a bit of a damp squib. Garsington’s Artistic Director, Dougie Boyd, brought a ravishing performance from the orchestra yet even here the conclusion to the opera lacked its usual explosive impact.
Main image: Camilla Titinger and Trystan Llŷr Griffiths
Images: Johan Persson