One of these days I will probably see a production of Don Giovanni set in a research station in the Antarctic. English Touring Opera, ambitious and valiant, haven’t gone that far yet. But Lloyd Wood’s new staging, part of an ETO threesome now hopping round the country, still makes the eyebrows shoot up. This time the Don and his girl bevy are scuttling round the Viennese sewers, circa 1900. Well, that’s what the programme booklet tells us; though if it hadn’t been for Elvira’s Wiener Werkstätte dress, the hint of a Klimt mosaic and a tiddly horn gramophone, you might just accept Anna Fleischle’s grim designs as a fair solution to the simple need for a single set, easily transported.
The big worry for me, at any rate, didn’t lie in the sewers, or the suspicion that Wood would deposit his opera on the consulting couch of Sigmund Freud. (He didn’t.) It lay instead in George von Bergen’s Don, sung with a voice that careens with little ballast, frequently oblivious to the notes’ precise pitch. Expressive emoting is all very well, but not to the point of making the listener seasick. At least the tonal unpleasantness falls in line with Wood’s particular view of the Don: not so much a rampaging Lothario, more a bludgeoning, selfish bully. And emollient singing is on hand to brighten and vary. There’s Matthew Stiff’s Leporello, fetchingly downtrodden and human; and Bradley Travis’s Masetto, the production’s easy winner of the Crisp Diction Prize. You also get reasonable delivery, if with a few kinks, from Ania Jeruc, Camilla Roberts and Lucy Hall, cast as the Don’s female prey.
It helps, too, that despite the pugnacity and catacomb chill, this Don Giovanni still manages to be funny.