The shark-eat-sharkbait world of online dating, a dispiriting universe in which hungry human souls are flicked through in silence like so many playing cards, gives Hampstead Garden Opera’s very modern Don Giovanni his perfect modus operandi. Leporello’s Catalogue aria notes “He’s got thousands of matches on Tinder”, Ok Cupid, Plenty of Fish, and every other shiny new app or website which promises love, and facilitates rejection, daily. Benjamin Hamilton’s sharp, witty translation makes Don Giovanni unnervingly realistic: in fact, all too depressingly credible. How much, by using these digital tools, do we unwittingly license men to behave like so many Don Giovannis, giving out the minimum of affection for the maximum sexual return, with no thought for the emotional consequences for either partner? In the 18th century, Don Giovanni’s behaviour was perceived as a social aberration, a moral horror; today, sadly, in the world of lad’s mags and one-night-stands, it is an accepted norm, though not without its own terrible price for men as well as women, as the tortured life and sad recent diagnosis of Charlie Sheen must forcibly remind us.

Jerome Knox (Don Giovanni) © Laurent Compagnon
Jerome Knox (Don Giovanni)
© Laurent Compagnon
Picking up (consciously or unconsciously) from Silent Opera’s fascinating, experimental Giovanni for Vault Festival February 2015, which also put Don Giovanni and Leporello on Tinder (but also on a lot of cocaine), Genevieve Raghu’s fast-paced production for HGO explores the concept more fully and more faithfully, finding the very darkest edges of Mozart’s black humour in her revisioning. I have never known the Catalogue aria to be so effective, so frankly shocking, as this, sung against a seething array of screenshots of Don Giovanni’s endless conquests. Familiarity with the libretto had rendered me numb to his bedpost scores in previous versions, but seeing the endless carousel of faces scale makes your head spin, and your heart sink for all those girls, like Donna Elvira, caught in the Bridget Jones predicament – loving a man incapable of real love, though obsessed  by the idea of it.

Raghu takes us to Oxford, with Giovanni as a charismatic young Don who preys on women for literary inspiration as well as sexual fulfilment, calling them his “Muses”. Leporello is his PhD student, whose admiration for his supervisor is already turning to disgust, while Zerlina is a recent graduate, fresh out of Finals with her friends and looking for a party. Rosana Vize’s design gives us an unnamed Oxford college, whose quad nevertheless looks suspiciously like my own, complete with a sundial which becomes a Jacuzzi for the famous party scene. A wood-panelled back wall forms ideal framing devices for clever AV projections by Douglas O’Connell, moving us smoothly from cloister to chapel, as well as dazzling us with those endless girls’ faces. Mobile technology is virtually a silent character itself: Leporello’s list is on a tablet in a bewildering algorithm, text messages are projected, Don Ottavio phones for an ambulance as Donna Anna finds her murdered father (here, the college Master). Giving us the rare scene in which Zerlina and Elvira attack Leporello, the girls’ final act of humiliation is to steal his phone. Jonathon Heyward, conducting Musica Poetica London, gives us a taut and highly finished account of the score, and it’s wonderful to see those rarely-included moments back on stage, and working so well.

Hampstead Garden Opera's <i>Don Giovanni</i> © Laurent Compagnon
Hampstead Garden Opera's Don Giovanni
© Laurent Compagnon

Jerome Knox’s Don Giovanni is believably gorgeous, visually and musically, exuding an erotic charge which fires the whole performance and keeps the audience, as well as every woman on stage, in thrall. Knox does not tackle “Deh, vieni” with the delicacy that makes that little canzonetta truly magical, but everywhere else his full-blooded approach to his music keeps paying off, capturing both Giovanni’s imperturbable arrogance and his undeniable charm. James Quilligan’s gawky Leporello balances Knox beautifully, nicely characterised and winningly craven. Luci Briginshaw’s superb Donna Anna is one of the evening’s main highlights, thrillingly well sung and beautifully acted, while Robert Clark’s charming Masetto is a surprisingly elegant treat in a role which too often gets the simplest portrayal, offering a genuine alternative to Giovanni for Zerlina (Rachel Tolzman). Gethin Lewis’ lyrically smooth Don Ottavio shines in his arias, though his sweet, fine tenor doesn’t always balance the trios and quartets as you might hope. Fiona Hymns’ slightly harsh-edged soprano makes for an emotionally explosive Donna Elvira, gifted with guts and a temper, supremely comic and definitely on the edge, if not over the edge, of a nervous breakdown. John Suddaby’s Master (Il Commendatore) rolls out his bass notes with thrilling vigour, but unfortunately doesn’t enunciate his words with commensurate clarity in the final dinner scene, leaving us sure that Don Giovanni is threatened, but at a loss as to why.

Giovanni’s final punishment is, fittingly, being dragged into a modern media hell as his crimes are exposed, his reputation shredded, and his victims begin to speak out against him: today’s familiar digital lynching. If only his ideas, and approach, weren’t quite so familiar, he might not have got so far.