Jonathan Kent claims one of the great difficulties of Mozart-Da Ponte’s 1787 dramma giocoso is ‘the collision of an extraordinary variety of music and mood within it’ – the kaleidoscopic interplay of opera seria and opera buffa; the dramatic texture of social, moral and sexual concerns. The director’s idea for the current Glyndebourne staging of Don Giovanni – a revival of the 2010 production, already repeated at the 2011 Festival – certainly does bring forth, in some ways, such a multiplicity of aspects. Yet it takes it a step too far, and Kent’s ‘mosaic’ often verges on the brink of disintegrating into chaos.

Edwin Crossley-Mercer (Leporello) and Elliot Madore (Don Giovanni) © Robert Workman
Edwin Crossley-Mercer (Leporello) and Elliot Madore (Don Giovanni)
© Robert Workman

The production’s staging centres around a giant, multipurpose, brick cube that rotates, spinning the action along by generating ever changing settings for the dramatic occurrences. The machinery has its benefits, not least as it allows for a tight flow of musical and dramatic events (unabated by scene changes). The scene drifts from the view of a masked Don Giovanni hanging from the balcony of the Commendatore’s house to the interior of a church, complete with his open coffin and a gigantic cross suspended from the ceiling; from glimpses of squares framed by de Chirico-like colonnades to allegorical paintings representing scenes of lasciviousness in colossal proportions. There's nothing wrong with such inventiveness, but once the initial attraction of these coups de théâtre has waned, and as the pace of stagecraft activity gets too high, one finds them little more than a cluster of often confusing dramatic expedients. In fact, they don’t help to produce dramatic momentum, nor to convey the layers of social, moral and sexual references so subtly inscribed in Mozart-Da Ponte’s opera. The characters even seem to lose some of their individual qualities, their personalities and different social status flattened by the congestion of stage events.

Ben Johnson (Don Ottavio) and Layla Claire (Donna Anna) © Robert Workman
Ben Johnson (Don Ottavio) and Layla Claire (Donna Anna)
© Robert Workman

The musical performance, particularly on the female front, was nevertheless for the most part as suggestive and glittering as it could have been. Layla Claire was, both vocally and dramatically, an assertive, captivating Donna Anna, nicely matched by Ben Johnson as her fiancé Don Ottavio, who sang with extreme charm throughout (though in the current production he is deprived of his famous aria “Il mio tesoro”, in accordance with Mozart’s Vienna revisions). Lenka Máčiková and Brandon Cedel were Mozart’s wedding couple, Zerlina and Masetto. Although their peasant character is somewhat lacking in Kent’s staging, they both gave fine performances, Máčiková producing some moments of sheer vocal beauty through her clarity and precision. Serena Farnocchia was a persuasive, rightly vigorous Donna Elvira, and Taras Shtonda a vocally sombre Commendatore – who nevertheless aroused more revulsion than awe when his bloody corpse emerged from under Don Giovanni’s supper table at the end of the opera.

The least convincing performances were perhaps those of Edwin Crossley-Mercer and Elliot Madore. The former, as Leporello, was a well-suited stage presence, but his vocal delivery overall lacked power and colour. The latter, in the title role, brought a fine suavity to Mozart’s music for the Don, but his somewhat monochrome timbre and constant bullish attitude made the character a dash too dull.

Conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada, making his Glyndebourne debut, led the London Philharmonic Orchestra through Mozart’s score with exquisite finesse and attention to both stage and pit. There is no doubt he helped supply in orchestral colours that richness of musical and dramatic expression which sometimes the redundancy of stage details and activity caused to be obscured. 

***11