tue 07/07/2020

Don Giovanni, Longborough Festival Opera review - Mozart in the urinal | reviews, news & interviews

Don Giovanni, Longborough Festival Opera review - Mozart in the urinal

Don Giovanni, Longborough Festival Opera review - Mozart in the urinal

Coarsened, disembowelled and only quite well sung

Ivan Ludlow and Claire Egan, jilted in the unisex pissoirMatthew Williams-Ellis

One of the features of the converted barn that forms the theatre at Longborough is a trio of statues that tops the front pediment of the building: Wagner, flanked by Verdi on the right and Mozart on the left. No one could question Wagner: Longborough has done him proud. But Verdi, after last year’s dismal La Traviata, and now Mozart, in the dubious light of Martin Constantine’s new Don Giovanni, are looking distinctly uncomfortable as mere attendants at the great Gloucestershire Wagnerfest.

I shall struggle to find anything positive to say about Constantine’s Don Giovanni. Set initially – and for the whole of the first act – in what seem to be the unisex changing rooms of a leisure-centre gym, it proceeds from coarseness to crudity to vulgarity of a kind that frankly made me feel physically ill. After the inevitable Overture pantomime in which a towelled Don indulges in the abduction and rape of a series of female gymnasts, the last of whom turns out to be (Donna) Anna, he then murders the Commendatore in the apparently unconcerned presence of (who turns out to be) Don Ottavio, with, perhaps, a knife-bladed squash racket, pulling out his innards for us all to relish. Elvira then appears, inexplicably, in the men’s urinal, and we have the unique pleasure of watching various walk-on pissers (pissers-by?) to the accompaniment of some of the most sublime music ever penned by man.

Need I go on? There may be an idea behind all this. Perhaps it’s somehow connected with the slogan on the back of Giovanni’s towel-wrap: “Freedom for all mankind” (the libretto’s “Viva la libertà”). Or perhaps not. Perhaps Constantine is satirising the astonishing (and clearly deliberate) tackiness of Will Holt’s designs, all towels and gold knickers and rubber palm trees, though quite why Mozart’s music or even Da Ponte’s witty and subtle text should prompt this kind of Aunt Sallyism escapes me. 

For the second act we’re out of the gym and into a sort of blockboard street, with doors here and there but, for some reason, a couple of cheap armchairs and a table, and bits and pieces left over from the gymnasium ball lying around. Finally the Don entertains himself, and eventually the statue, with a monster take-away dinner. The tacky descends to the merely squalid, and the eye searches in vain for the faintest correlative of the ironic elegance of the score.

The ear, it’s true, has a better time of it, though not all the singers relish having to sing this by no means straightforward music in Amanda Holden’s skilful (but irretrievably English) translation. Ivan Ludlow is a strong, vocally virile Don, a commanding presence, but hateful in a vulgarian, #Metoo, rather than Don Juanish kind of way – not of course mostly his fault. Paula Sides (pictured above) is a stylish Donna Anna who would fit well into a more idiomatic setting; Emyr Wyn Jones is a fine, lively buffo-bass Leporello. 

But the rest take too much colour from their surroundings here. Claire Egan disappoints as Elvira after her lovely Violetta last year, but that was in Italian. The Zerlina, Llio Evans, is not helped by being promoted from peasant to suburban masseuse, while William Morgan’s Ottavio, a frail enough character in Mozart, becomes a repulsive hypocrite in Constantine, which may be why he loses his profound “Dalla sua pace” but retains (and sings very nicely) the more facile “Il mio tesoro”. Only Lukas Jakobski’s Commendatore breathes the authentically sombre air of the Habsburg graveyard, an episode beyond the Constantine/Holt axis to disembowel.

The conductor, Thomas Blunt, presides over this farrago in, I hope, a spirit of tolerance more than complicity. The orchestral performance on Saturday’s second night still preserved some rough edges. But it was pure silk beside the antics onstage.

The tacky descends to the merely squalid, and the eye searches in vain for the faintest correlative of the ironic elegance of the music


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Thanks for this marvellous review. It makes me appreciate this show so much more to know how much it offended someone like you. Absolutely wonderful.

I agree with every word of this accurate review, the first half was a confusing embarrassing mess , the second only marginally better. Paula Sides stood out as an excellent Donna Ana, and Emuyr Wyn Jones was a good Leporello . Everybody else was disapppointing . Why was it sung in a clunky English translation ? Why the ridiculous setting , why the urinal , why the female chorus carrying golf clubs in the last scene ? Not Longborough ‘s finest hour,

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