This production opens like the perfect whodunnit. Passengers embark with their luggage aboard an ocean liner for a transatlantic cruise, busily locating their cabins. Within moments there's an attempted rape, a murder and nowhere for the villain to flee. All we need is Hercule Poirot to waddle onto deck and apply his “leetle grey cells” to unmask the culprit. Instead we get Mozart's Don Giovanni transported by director Oliver Platt to The Queen Mary in the 1930s for Opera Holland Park's new staging. It looks handsome enough – particularly the costumes – but the concept is flawed.

John Savournin (Leporello) and Ashley Riches (Don Giovanni) © Robert Workman
John Savournin (Leporello) and Ashley Riches (Don Giovanni)
© Robert Workman

Neil Irish's set has a deck lined by cabin doors, making for a long, narrow apron to the stage. This at least protects voices from getting too lost in the canopied acoustic and the walls collapse inwards to create a cramped space for interior scenes. There is no discernible reason for the ocean liner setting, other than the method of the Don's eventual demise, which was predictable following Donna Elvira's antics in her aria “Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata”. But it raises several questions. What are 'peasants' Zerlina and Masetto doing taking a cruise before their wedding? And why would they be on the same deck as cabin class guests like Don Giovanni? Why would Elvira bring her chambermaid with her when Cunard provides room service? The cruise ship scenario holds some promise, but it needed more rigorous thought than it received here.

Ashley Riches (Don Giovanni) with members of the principal cast © Robert Workman
Ashley Riches (Don Giovanni) with members of the principal cast
© Robert Workman

Mozart described Don Giovanni as a dramma giocoso, and Platt gets plenty of laughs, but some of the comedy here was unintended: the squirt of blood as the Commendatore is knifed; Zerlina, trying to hide “behind this foliage”, bringing the greenery in her cocktail to her face; Elvira and Leporello exclaiming they cannot find a door when there are plenty to choose from. The Commendatore understandably has no statue, but his resurrected corpse is laid on a slab in the same room as meat is hanging (Port Health would have a field day). When he enters Giovanni's cabin, blood pours from a head wound despite the fact that he was stabbed in the abdomen. 

The singing was mixed, tinged with first night nerves. Ashley Riches' Don is a lounge lizard in a Panama hat, exuding little sexual menace but fine comic timing. Vocally, he sounded in good form, singing his Serenade most beautifully. It was telling that in “Là ci darem la mano” he seduces Zerlina by barely laying a finger on her... it's she who gets physical. And anyone who can tie a perfect bow tie within the brief span of the pugnacious Champagne Aria deserves my applause. John Savournin was the perfect foil as Leporello, a bluff cove who presents his Catalogue Aria winningly in a warm bass-baritone.

Lauren Fagan (Donna Anna) © Robert Workman
Lauren Fagan (Donna Anna)
© Robert Workman

Australian soprano Lauren Fagan sang a commanding Donna Anna with dramatic recitatives, laser-like projection and clean fioritura. “Non mi dir” was the highlight of the evening. As her fiancé, Ben Johnson was taxed by conductor Dane Lam's slow tempo for “Dalla sua pace”. His Don Ottavio was stiffly acted and short-breathed, sounding sadly out of sorts in a choppy “Il mio tesoro”. Ellie Laugharne's Zerlina also had tempi problems, with “Batti, batti” speeding just too fast for her, but she recovered to deliver a delightful, buttery-toned “Vedrai carino” to melt Ian Beadle's flinty Masetto (his aria one of several damaging cuts). Victoria Simmonds' Donna Elvira was a bit wild at the top where intonation wavered – the role seems a touch on the high side for her – but it was convincingly acted though, a woman on the very brink of a nervous breakdown. Graeme Broadbent's gritty bass made for a strong Commendatore. Dane Lam led a brusque account of Mozart's score, the City of London Sinfonia sometimes unsympathetically loud meaning that some voices got lost on the wide stage. 

Don Giovanni is often referred to as the directors' graveyard. This one deserves a quiet burial at sea.