This is unusual enough to be mentioned: for its new production that tours theatres in the Netherlands, Nederlands Reisopera hired both a female conductor and a female director. In the program notes, they explain it was a deliberate move from the company to shed light on the fact that women in leading positions are still too few in the world of opera. This does not however translate into an overtly feminist version of the famous tale of the libertine and murderous womaniser that one could have expected.

Aleš Jenis (Don Giovanni) and Anita Watson (Donna Anna) © Marco Borggreve
Aleš Jenis (Don Giovanni) and Anita Watson (Donna Anna)
© Marco Borggreve

The focus of director Jo Davies lies rather in demonstrating how the lack of resistance from people who surround him, women included, allows Don Giovanni to get away with rape and murder. Zerlina does not hesitate even one second about switching her poor fiancé Masetto for a suitor with higher staus and more material wealth. Donna Anna’s frenzied despair is fuelled by the self-inflicted guilt she feels of ultimately being responsible of her father’s murder. Donna Elvira’s bigotry blinds her to the point of believing that saving her marriage with Don Giovanni is the way to salvation. This all sounds very dark but the way Ms Davies executes her concept certainly isn’t. Her staging of Mozart’s dramma giocoso is a fast-paced, high-spirited affair packed with humour, where the emphasis is decidedly more on giocoso than on the dramma.

Silvia Moi (Zerlina) and Aleš Jenis (Don Giovanni) © Marco Borggreve
Silvia Moi (Zerlina) and Aleš Jenis (Don Giovanni)
© Marco Borggreve

Visually, the action is moved to the 1970s. Francis O'Connor's sets are dotted with Scandinavian design furniture and characters wear colourful flared trousers and wide-lapelled jackets (costumes by Gabrielle Dalton). This transposition in time is part of the fun and only comes second, in terms of impact, after the dynamic movement of actors on stage and fast-paced changes of sets that keep the audience captivated at all times. This is jubilant theatre-making. Ensemble-scenes are expertly choreographed, most memorably the ballroom scene at the end of Act 1 when couples launch into a hilarious disco dance routine straight out of “Stayin’alive”. And this is only one of the many facetious moments that set the audience chuckling: throughout the performance, the director sustains the gleeful mood by an elaborate Personenregie, allied with an astute sense of timing. She is helped in this by a team of soloists who appear to relish in what that she throws at them and, all without exception, demonstrate excellent acting skills. The theatrical experience is further enhanced by an admirable work on the recitatives.

Matthias Hoffmann (Masetto) and Silvia Moi (Zerlina) © Marco Borggreve
Matthias Hoffmann (Masetto) and Silvia Moi (Zerlina)
© Marco Borggreve

The cast is overall very good, with performances of Anna Grevelius as Donna Elvira and George Humphreys as Leporello particularly standing out. The Swedish mezzo gave an impressive interpretation of Elvira’s complex character, as a goody two shoes whose poised retenue hides inner hysteria. Her refined singing, both in her entrance aria and the ensembles, made one regret she does not get to sing Elvira’s second act aria “Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata …”; the production team chose to use the earlier Prague version, without the added arias and duet added later in Vienna, as they felt it suited their fast-paced concept better. British baritone Humphreys was a wonderfully comic Leporello with an attractive timbre and an agile stage presence. As Donna Anna, I found Anita Watson initially hesitant but as she warmed up, she unveiled a lithe soprano. She delivered a heartfelt “Non mi dir”. As Don Ottavio, Nico Darmanin boasted a flexible, metal-edged tenor. Lukas Jacobski’s towering stature and cavernous sound made for an imposing Commendatore. Silvia Moi portrayed an unashamedly flirtatious Zerlina, and the thought that she could be untrue to her fiancé was infuriating, so endearing was Matthias Hoffmann’s Masetto. Ales Jenis portrayed a convincing Don Giovanni,  seductive in a deceitful way, as some bad guys sometimes can be – so I’m told. His isn’t a stentorian baritone (it sometimes got lost in the ensembles) but it boasts a pleasant timbre.

Nico Darmanin (Don Ottavio) and Anita Watson (Donna Anna) © Marco Borggreve
Nico Darmanin (Don Ottavio) and Anita Watson (Donna Anna)
© Marco Borggreve

Playing every night in a different theatre, each with its own acoustics, understandably presents challenges. It took conductor Julia Jones the whole of the first scene of Act 1 to find the right balance between the orchestra in the pit and soloists on stage. After this initial lapse, she conducted the Orkest van het Oosten , brass sounding particularly heady, in a very assured performance with mainly brisk tempi to match the exuberance on stage.

***11