Wednesday, December 7

Don Giovanni – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

‘Hurry hurry’ one character sings to another. ‘I can’t’ the other character replies. This is Mozart after all and the composer has never been known to keep things short and to the point. Don Giovanni doesn’t drag like the final acts of Figaro, but you do have to buckle yourself in for a lengthy ride.

For those who don’t know the storyline of one of the greatest operas in the canon, the titular character of the opera, Don Giovanni, is more than just a philandering womanizing rake. He’s a liar, a rapist and a murderer. This is all apparent in the first 10 minutes when he’s already a committed a murder. As the opera progresses there are a series of characters baying for his blood, all wronged by his actions. When it seems he has achieved the impossible and dodged his demise he meets his end with a Faustian descent into hell.

Evidently, this opera carries a complex identity. Scottish Opera’s latest production of one of Mozart’s greatest operas is a is a revival of Sir Thomas Allens’s 2013 production. Alas, a lot of happened since 2013 in the fight to challenge the cultures that protect wrongly support and justify the modern-day Don Giovannis, #MeToo being one of them. Ploughing onwards regardless in a revival production that seemingly doesn’t address these concerns or formally demarcate Giovanni as someone who sits firmly on the wrong side or morality feels uneasy. Rowland Wood’s Don Giovanni stops at roguish and more should be made of the character’s abhorrent nature. The dramatization and direction characterizes Don Giovanni as a ‘lad’ who occasionally gets into scrapes and at points towards nothing more. 

For those who are newcomers to opera, this production revels too much in the stereotypes that turn away younger audience goers. The flickering of lights feels like a tired cliché belonging in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and the intermittent rolling thunder loses its desired effect after the umpteenth time. Simon Higlett’s claustrophobic set takes us to the narrow streets of Venice, to remarkable effect, but at times to the opera’s own detriment. Despite the colossal expanse of the Festival Theatre stage, the set often only provides them with mere meters for movement resulting in static direction that leads to stagnant drama. For Hye-Youn Lee’s Donna Anna this is particularly disappointing in her impassioned arias. Meanwhile, as the set opens to wide open squares, the chorus is barely used to fill the space, and the performers given little direction when the space is empty.

Stuart Stratford conducts a consummate orchestra, even if the continuo is disappointingly sounded like a piano. But what audience members can be sure of is an absolute stunning line up of singers. Pablo Bemsch’s Don Ottavio is a sublime performance throughout, with his Il Mio Tesoro being the highlight of the production. Emyr Wyn Jones’ Masetto is another male lead who shines on his quest to murder Don Giovanni.  Lea Shaw gives an infectiously delightful portrayal of the wronged Zerlina, while Kitty Whately’s Donna Elvira voice soars as she tells the audience of her torment- in this production she’s the queen of storytelling. And of course, Roland Wood’s Don Giovanni is vocal perfection.

Opera is known for being a feast for the senses, and while this disappoints on some fronts, it’s a vocally impressive performance that is definitely worth slotting in your diary to see. If you’re a purist looking for an unchallenging performance, this will hit all the right notes.

This production runs at the Festival Theatre until the 11th June,

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 5th June 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★