This is a welcome return for director Alessandro Talevi’s witty production, first staged by Opera North just over five years ago, well polished, with a couple of the original cast returning. This time around, it seems more relevant to the current Zeitgeist, with so many media stories about sexual harassment, but there are no major changes, just a few tweaks. As usual, the audience is invited to relish a mixture of the funny and the sinister: the antique Mr Punch on the programme cover is disturbing with his cynically leering mouth and bulging eyeballs, but also ludicrous. Puppets play an important part in the performance, partly as a reference to the medieval origins of the story in market-day sideshows. They appear as rude and crude alter egos of the singers in picture frames, waving about their tiny stick-like arms, kissing, fighting, touching each other up, all to the delight of the audience. When the picture frames are not miniature proscenium stages, they concentrate attention on individuals and are very effective as the equivalent of zoom lenses.

Elizabeth Atherton (Donna Elvira) and John Savournin (Leporello) © Bill Cooper
Elizabeth Atherton (Donna Elvira) and John Savournin (Leporello)
© Bill Cooper

The mythical aspect of this Don Giovanni is played up, so that he becomes considerably more than an 18th-century aristocrat and libertine. He is a time-traveller, rather like Doctor Who, who can turn up in any age, like the 1950s, the 19th century or the present day. He is an ever-present type, a dangerous philanderer from whatever time. A crackling neon date sign conveniently ensures that we do not miss anything. Dark Victorian dresses emphasise sinister aspects, but my favourite period is the fifties, which has the guests at Masetto and Zerlina’s wedding dressed in A-line skirts and Teddy Boy outfits (costumes and set designs by Madeleine Boyd). They dance too briefly, though. The varied costumes are not matched by the set, which is generally an all-purpose background.

William Dazeley (Don Giovanni) and Jennifer Davis (Donna Anna) © Bill Cooper
William Dazeley (Don Giovanni) and Jennifer Davis (Donna Anna)
© Bill Cooper

William Dazeley provides more than enough gentlemanly elegance as the Don once again, along with a strong but nuanced baritone, well displayed in “Là ci darem la mano”, his duet with Zerlina, when he is seducing (perhaps grooming) her, but never lets us forget what is really on his mind. A sinister aspect is always there, because he makes it clear that the character is more of a serial rapist than a charming seducer, but he is also one half of a comic double-act, with bass-baritone John Savournin as Leporello. Savournin is a perfect foil, with not a smidgeon of nastiness about him. He creates Leporello almost completely as a comic turn. I was particularly impressed with his precise and unflagging delivery of the Catalogue Aria, illustrated by a series of dummy heads with rapidly changing headgear in a frame, and with his sharp interactions with Dazeley, as in the recitativo “Orsù, spicciati presto”, all in tones which convey a kind of warm geniality.

James Platt (The Commendatore) and William Dazeley (Don Giovanni) © Bill Cooper
James Platt (The Commendatore) and William Dazeley (Don Giovanni)
© Bill Cooper

Soprano Jennifer Davis' Donna Anna was hair-raising, but in the best possible way. Her gorgeously pure voice and acting ability gave her character a particularly strong significance. Soprano Elizabeth Atherton was a compelling Donna Elvira, giving her a really strong and dynamic presence. Her “Ah, chi mi dice mai” (Who will ever tell me) was full of fire. Mezzo Kathryn Rudge's Zerlina was splendid and sprightly, endowed with a forcefully-conveyed, naïve sexiness as the peasant bride. Her plea for forgiveness (and domestic violence) to her prospective husband Masetto, “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto” (Beat me, dear Masetto) was sung with captivating sweetness. Bass Ross McInroy was a sturdy Masetto, perhaps a little too thuggish, and tenor Nicholas Watts was a rather delicate Don Ottavio, his lower register well emphasized. Bass James Platt gave the Commendatore a suitably strident, hall-filling presence at the final feast, his bearded head upstage, proving that prosthetics involving stone are completely unnecessary.

Christoph Altstaedt was a versatile and alert conductor of the well-controlled orchestra, the strings excelling.

****1