Richard Bratby

Simply not as good as Mozart’s: RCM’s Don Giovanni Tenorio reviewed

Plus: a lush programme from LSO

Angharad Rowlands in the Royal Academy's Ariodante. Image: Craig Fuller

In Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, Don Giovanni finds himself in hell, chatting to the sentient Statue that dragged him to his doom. ‘It sounds rather flat without my trombones,’ admits the Statue, conceding that once you remove the genius of Mozart from the mix, you’re left with a trite (if titillating) morality tale. You could draw the same conclusion from the opera Don Giovanni Tenorio, by Giuseppe Gazzaniga (1743-1818), and if you haven’t heard of him you might wonder why not. Institutional racism? Patriarchal hegemony? Not this time. Gazzaniga was a Neapolitan composer of perfectly adequate operas that simply aren’t as good as Mozart’s.

Anyway, Don Giovanni Tenorio made an amusing end-of-term show at the Royal College of Music. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a Don Giovanni premiered in 1787, eight months before Mozart’s? The fun lies in comparing and contrasting the two. How will Gazzaniga deal with Donna Elvira? When will the Commendatore arrive? Here’s the Catalogue Aria – funny, it sounds just like Mozart’s. Hang on, it actually is Mozart’s! Possibly to enhance the experience for the student cast, director Louise Bakker decided to insert a series of arias by Salieri and Mozart into Gazzaniga’s score. 

Angharad Rowlands’s ‘Scherza infida’ seemed to suspend time

In fairness, that was a common 18th-century practice. But unless you have a truly encyclopedic knowledge of obscure late classical opera buffa, it made it difficult to appraise Gazzaniga on his own merits. The impression was of a condensed, more cartoonish version of the story set by Mozart. Gone is any ambiguity in the opening scene with Donna Anna (Alexandra Dunaeva) and the exchanges with the Statue (David Fraser) are positively banal (he really is a bore without his trombones). Donna Elvira is the most fully realised female character, and Georgia Melville plays her with warmth and style. 

On the plus side there’s another conquest for the Don, one Donna Ximena (Ellen Pearson), while Zerlina (Gazzaniga calls her Maturina, and Henna Mun was delightfully sparky in the role) gets a piquant little Spanish number.

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