At the start of June, there will be many celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, but the transfer of Scottish Opera’s production of Don Giovanni  to Edinburgh on 5th June marks another milestone. It will be 60 years since Alexander Gibson raised the baton to conduct Madama Butterfly with the Scottish National Orchestra in the pit and students from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in the chorus in Scottish Opera’s first production. Sir Thomas Allen’s production of Don Giovanni, revived with fresh eyes, shows the company on sparkling form and will be a fitting commemoration, as it delighted the large audience in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal.

Roland Wood (Don Giovanni) and Keel Watson (The Commendatore)
© James Glossop

Sir Thomas Allen knows Don Giovanni inside out as singer and director, setting this production of the "Vienna version" in 17th century Venice backstreets, a city from which librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte and Casanova were both fugitives. Designer Simon Higglet’s movable towers of slightly crumbling buildings created a maze of doorways, balconies and street corners, opening out at key moments to the street wedding scene or Giovanni’s rather opulent chambers. It was a shadowy and sinister backdrop, adding a menacing edge to the tale of the licentious nobleman, all moodily lit in a blue/grey palette by Mark Jonathan with constantly moving watery reflections from the canals. Daylight never quite arrived in these Stygian streets. The costumes, also by Higglet, were lavishly detailed and period authentic, but some striking Venetian masked oddities peppered the staging – a long-nosed commedia dell’arte character introduced the action and two creepy nuns in black masks and enormously floppy cornette hats would stand stock still, firmly blocking alleyways.   

In a well-sung cast, the evening belonged to Roland Wood, immensely roguish in the title role, swaggering and swishing in his brocade coat as he smoothly tried to charm the women, but indignant and baffled when challenged. Wood’s "Deh, vieni alla finestra" with John Robertson’s mandolin would surely melt any heart. He was well-paired with Zachary Altman’s browbeaten Leporello who gave a heartfelt performance with well-judged humour, the deft costume swap and ensuing stage antics a comedic highlight. Sir Thomas allows us to have much fun and amusement with Giovanni’s outrageous antics, but it is a fine balance as Hye-Youn Lee’s Donna Anna is devastated as she realises Giovanni murdered her father (Keel Watson’s gruff Commendatore). Lee’s bright coloratura was complemented by Chinese tenor Shengzhi Ren, Don Ottavio for this performance only, clearly relishing his two arias although the character was rather one-dimensional.Emyr Wyn Jones was a dangerously disgruntled Masetto, fiancé to Zerlina, gorgeously sung by Scottish Opera emerging artist Lea Shaw dreamily floating Mozart’s notes. Kitty Whately was a lightly sung Donna Elvira, arriving by boat in a stunning red taffeta coat, her and her maid the only characters to challenge the monochrome costume palate.

Roland Wood (Don Giovanni) and Kitty Whately (Donna Elvira)
© James Glossop

The stagecraft was nicely handled by Kally Lloyd-Jones (movement direction), James Fleming (fight choreography) and Gary Connery (stunt coordination). Donna Anna, Don Ottavio and Donna Elvira attend Giovanni’s party in masquerade where the Commendatore’s ghost also makes a fleeting appearance. Giovanni successfully escapes through the flames in the fireplace at the end of Act 1, but the flames lead a different way in his denouement as he is dragged to a hellish end.  

Conductor Stuart Stratford kept tempos brisk and bright, highlighting detail, and I enjoyed the bite of natural trumpets, Baroque timpani and small-bore trombones alongside conventional horns. Fiona MacSherry’s piano continuo was beautifully understated but cheeky in all the right places. The balance between stage and pit was sensitive, allowing the singers to emerge, with Stratford keeping tight control of the ensembles and the excellent chorus under Susannah Wapshott’s direction.

Roland Wood (Don Giovanni) and Lea Shaw (Zerlina)
© James Glossop

Since this production was first seen in 2013, the #MeToo movement has arrived, yet in Allen’s hands, it still balances well: the only person who approves of Giovanni is the man himself, and he pays for his behaviour. In the concluding ensemble, the five main characters, free of Giovanni at last, start to plan their future paths.

Rising star Jonathan McGovern takes over as Don Giovanni mid-run, and Pablo Bemsch returns as Don Ottavio for the remaining performances as this hugely enjoyable production travels Scotland.

****1