“Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni” proclaims Da Ponte’s libretto, and Mozart insisted on the seriousness implied in that verbal sequence. This is a tale of wickedness punished, beginning with a murder (no gentlemanly rapiers – this Commendatore is unarmed when viciously stabbed) and ending in fiery damnation. Martin Constantine’s new production of Don Giovanni for Longborough Festival Opera is one for the #MeToo era. Will Holt’s set is initially a gym with walls of lockers and some curtained cubicles – or some louche upmarket Health and Fitness Centre, since along with men in towelling robes, there are attendant female staff and visitors. During the overture, a sequence of three of these women are roughly dragged by our hero into a curtained cubicle, and between each bout of activity within he emerges equipped for boxing, then squash, then fencing. (If you want to try this at home, you should know that the overture to the opera lasts just six minutes.)

Ivan Ludlow (Don Giovanni) and Paula Sides (Donna Anna) © Matthew Williams Ellis
Ivan Ludlow (Don Giovanni) and Paula Sides (Donna Anna)
© Matthew Williams Ellis

Longborough has limited stage resources – no possibility of winging that gym into a flytower and dropping down a street scene. So they have to be inventive in set design and scene transition. Hence the walls of gym lockers are swung across the middle of the stage to become walls of houses, some locker doors opened and backlit to suggest windows from which masked passers-by can be invited to a feast, or rather a riotous pill-popping party, complete with inflatable palm trees and swimming pool – just enough inexpensive props to make the place look trashed when they are strewn about. The setting impairs one key element in this opera, which is class distinction. A gym is a great leveller, for there is not much social distance between Giovanni’s bathrobe, despite its gold trim, and Leporello’s tracksuit – though the servant is chav enough to wear it at all times.

Ivan Ludlow (Don Giovanni) © Matthew Williams Ellis
Ivan Ludlow (Don Giovanni)
© Matthew Williams Ellis

But if this is not especially atmospheric to look upon for three hours, it throws the focus onto character and drama. Both are enhanced by the use of an effective singable English translation by Amanda Holden, which accounted for the few laughs the audience offered, mainly at the verbal sparring in Giovanni’s and Leporello’s buddy-movie exchanges. But then there was little truly jocund about this dramma giocoso, which focussed on the pursuit of its Promethean central character. Ivan Ludlow’s Don Giovanni was imposing in physique (on show a lot of the time) and in sheer energy. Vocally he was most impressive whenever the music required vigour as in his brief presto party summons “Fin ch’ han del vino”, or in defiance, as in his fearless response to the statue’s infernal summons. His wooing of Zerlina and of Elvira’s maid was less persuasive perhaps, but then he is thwarted in those amorous ambitions. His “Deh vieni alla finestra” was sung in Italian, presumably because that was the language Giovanni learned it in, and as a serenade it would be a stage song in a straight play.

Ivan Ludlow (Don Giovanni) and Claire Egan (Donna Elvira) © Matthew Williams Ellis
Ivan Ludlow (Don Giovanni) and Claire Egan (Donna Elvira)
© Matthew Williams Ellis

There is a fine team of young singers, mostly making house debuts, who were all more than competent in music which gives each singer a challenge. Emyr Wyn Jones’ Leporello delivered a delightful catalogue aria, keep the patter light and swift, and acted well, both as himself and when impersonating Giovanni. The other members of the lower orders, Masetto (Matthew Durkan) and Zerlina (Llio Evans) sang well throughout, in their own numbers and in ensemble. The latter’s “Batti, batti” (Beat me) – though textually a gift to a rapist’s defence lawyer – managed to seem both silly and sweet. Claire Egan’s Elvira was every inch the wronged woman, still vulnerable enough nearly to make the same mistake twice, and since the opera is given in its Vienna version, she could show her considerable skills in “Mi tradi”. Don Ottavio was not the usual wimp, but in William Morgan’s assumption was a virile leader of the pack hunting the Don. His “Il mio tesoro” was also virile, which worked at least as well as the more usual honeyed legato approach. In the stand-off between the men and women at the final curtain he stood above the other chaps as they faced down the women, led by a handgun-toting Donna Anna (Paula Sides). She has an appealing sound throughout her range, a hint of spinto power, and gave the vocal performance of the night.

Llio Evans (Zerlina) and Ivan Ludlow (Don Giovanni) © Matthew Williams Ellis
Llio Evans (Zerlina) and Ivan Ludlow (Don Giovanni)
© Matthew Williams Ellis

The excellent orchestra was splendidly conducted by Thomas Blunt, whose tempi never dragged and who got good balance most of the time – although the woodwind pairs, whose music is so wonderful in Mozart, are a bit recessed down in the under-stage pit. Blunt even has the knack of firing up the stop-start recitativo accompagnato music, especially that for Donna Anna. He, like his singers, could be well satisfied with their evening’s work pursuing a vile predator to his deserved damnation.

***11