Don Giovanni at Longborough Festival Opera

DON GIOVANNI
Longborough Festival Opera ****
Alongside its painstakingly-built proud Wagner tradition, Longborough Festival Opera has also created itself a name for inventive Mozart production, and Martin Constantine's new staging of Don Giovanni provides an interesting, if not always totally successful addition to the tally.
We are in a gentlemen's health club, where the members sport various bats (instruments of violence when necessary) and treat the female staff as commodities of every nature. Will Holt's design is basically the back wall of a locker-room, complete with urinal (the comic value of that is minimal), the cupboard doors providing resourceful windows, exits and entrances, and the gentlemen sport white towelling robes over white singlets and boxer-shorts, varied only by gold lame briefs for formal wear. The visual impact is dull.
Constantine brings some arresting insights into this scenario, including Don Giovanni's lavish ball portrayed as an orgy, and making the fateful supper scene a frenzy of scoffing fast-food, a disco in the corner throbbing out those well-known operatic hits, and one where we at last see some stature in Ivan Ludlow's previously uncharismatic Don.
Here the Don surprises himself by being terrified at the appearance of the Stone Guest (Luka Jakobski a genuinely imposing statue of the Commendatore slain by Giovanni -- and the most convincing of all the male participants), his right hand trembling as it anticipates the doom-laden handshake about to be insisted upon by the statue's own minatory right hand.
As I have hinted, the female contingent brought far more personality and indeed vocal satisfaction to their portrayals, Claire Egan a genuinely affecting Donna Elvira, Paula Sides, imperious as Donna Anna, and Llio Evans attractive in Zerlina's blend of innocence and provocativeness.
The Longborough Festival Orchestra continues to play at its magnificent best, Thomas Blunt drawing phrasing both acute and lyrical (and how pragmatic not to attempt to have the Ball's three conflicting orchestras brought onstage but just leave them soaring defiantly out of the pit), and supported by clear, vivid continuo-playing from Charlotte Forrest.
But now comes my chief complaint. The continuo supports the many passages of recitativo secco, the "dry recitative" in which most of the action is reported and carried forward. Amanda Holden's remarkably fluent new English translation of the arias, choruses and orchestrally-accompanied recitatives was helpfully confirmed by English side-titles. But there were none for the crucial keyboard-supported narratives.
Christopher Morley

*Repeated July 13, 14,16,18 and 20. Details on lfo.org,uk 01451830292

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