Throughout the pandemic, we have seen orchestras, ensembles and opera companies worldwide coming to terms with Covid restrictions and using them as springboards for creativity. Seattle Opera has gone one step further and set itself the additional challenge of presenting Mozart’s Don Giovanni to an audience acutely aware of the #MeToo movement, and – here in London, for example – alive to the campaign to reclaim the streets as a safe place for women.

Jared Byee (Don Giovanni)
© Ken Christensen

Seattle has chosen to take a wholly cinematic approach to its latest stream, using close-ups and travelling shots to focus on the wronged women in the story, not the perpetrator. In doing so it diminishes the dominance of the Don – actually reflecting the score and libretto, something that is often overlooked in more extravagant productions. It is the women who are given the most complex and demanding arias, and it is their story and their response to the Don’s rapacious character that lies at the heart of the drama.

Laura Wilde (Donna Elvira), Vanessa Goikoetxea (Donna Anna) and Andrew Stenson (Don Ottavio)
© Ken Christensen

To complete the cinematic approach, director Brenna Corner has chosen to film in black and white, apparently inspired by the 1964 film of a Broadway staging of Hamlet, starring Richard Burton. It’s not clear that this adds anything tangible to the already cut-down production; draining it of colour when our current world is so solidly monochrome is frankly deflating. And despite valiant playing, lone pianist David McDade and conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya can’t make up for the loss of the vivid orchestral palette so embedded in Mozart’s magical score. At times it feels we are eavesdropping on a rehearsal.

Jared Bybee (Don Giovanni) and Kenneth Kellogg (Commendatore)
© Ken Christensen

To avoid physical contact and the need to socially distance a chorus, significant cuts have been made (no partying, no fights), bringing the whole opera down to a fast-track 90 minutes. Some curious gear changes are inevitable with this approach, but the essence of the drama is never lost and the crucial set pieces allowed their full weight.

Jared Bybee (Don Giovanni) and Michael Sumuel (Leporello)
© Ken Christensen

Vanessa Goikoetxea as Donna Anna and Laura Wilde as Donna Elvira both sing with distinction, the fire and fury of their bewilderment and rage richly enhanced by video director Ken Christensen’s close camera work. Jared Bybee’s Don, in contrast, lurks in the shadows, both physically and metaphorically, a creeping menace. His is a cruelly impassive Don, impervious to the hurt and distress he causes and certain of his right to behave as he pleases. Vocally, however, he is outclassed by the impressive bass of Adam Lau as Masetto, the new husband that the Don humiliates. The Don’s sidekick and servant Leporello (Michael Sumuel) never quite pulls off the seedy cynicism necessary in the character and also suffers from some pretty wayward lip-syncing. (The cast recorded the score at Tagney Jones Hall and then sang along to it for the filming at the Opera Centre.)

This certainly won’t be the most sumptuous Don you’ll ever see, but it is committed, imaginative and admirably compact.

This performance was reviewed from the Seattle Opera video stream