Michael Tanner

Hole in the heart | 6 October 2016

Plus: two of Puccini’s most depressing works are given faithful outings by Opera North and David Pountney

Richard Jones’s new production of Don Giovanni at ENO bears some passing resemblances to the opera as envisaged by its librettist and composer. Mainly, however, it goes its own way, refusing most of the time, especially at key moments, to listen to the music Mozart wrote, with consequences that Jones no doubt regards as ‘creative infidelity’. When we enter the auditorium we see a contemporary streetlight and a phone booth, straight out of Jones’s production of Siegfried at the Royal Opera 20 years ago. The curtain rises on a huge ‘Wanted’ poster of Christopher Purves, followed by a depressing series of bleak rooms, in one of which the Commendatore is bedding a prostitute and wearing white boxers, signifiers of nudity at ENO. Two rooms away, Donna Anna is beseeching Giovanni to humiliate her, establishing that in this version there is no question of unkinky lust, let alone love, except for the fairly innocent pair Masetto and Zerlina — everyone wears black apart from Zerlina in bridal white and her lover in his shirtsleeves. Giovanni dispatches the Commendatore with a stab in the groin. A succession of horny women cross the stage, Leporello opens a door for them, Giovanni follows them in and emerges five seconds later. He is trendily bi-curious, too, since he has a Leporello lookalike as one of his clients/tricks.

Christopher Purves and Clive Bayley, both wonderful artists, have a good double act going, and when the bald Giovanni dons his servant’s ginger wig and glasses, the disguise is convincing. Bayley also sings extremely well, producing a catalogue aria — from a phone book — of cold lechery. Purves, who has shown in other works that he can be powerfully sexy, seems unhappy in this production, both vocally and in terms of acting. He drains his voice of any lovely sounds, even when seducing Zerlina, and seems interested only in sadistic conquest.

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