“How’s your moral compass doing now?”
After the Olivier Award winning success of La Bohème and spearheading a whole new trend in fringe opera, OperaUpClose have collaborated with Soho Theatre for this new production of Mozart’s classic, Don Giovanni, in a new version (and English translation) by Robin Norton-Hale who also directs.
Updating and streamlining the story of the titular ruthless lothario to a pre-credit crunch London, this version makes Johnny a city trader looking for easy pickings to add to the endless notches on his multiple bedposts and searching for ever more high-stakes thrills. Accompanied by the ever-faithful Alexander, the original’s manservant being translated a little tenuously to an intern here, they move from Sloane Square dinner parties to Soho nightclubs, Johnny leaving hearts broken and lives destroyed in his wake but not even he can avoid having to pay the price.
Don Giovanni is performed by three rotating casts over its five week run. Marc Callahan as the sharp-suited and snakeskin-shod Johnny captures the swaggering arrogance of a banker who believes he is untouchable with a powerful performance full of cocky charm and contrasted nicely by Tom Stoddart’s affable Alexander, constantly picking up the pieces for his boss and maintaining a dry humour throughout. Rosalind Coad’s slightly unhinged Elvira sang brightest out of the women though Emily-Jane Thomas’ Zerlina also sounded good.
Keeping things fresh musically, Emily Leather’s piano is accompanied by a live electronic score from Harry Blake, though the influences of dubstep and techno which loom large at the beginning are rather restrained throughout and ultimately, I would have liked to have seen a more radically adventurous approach to juxtapose adorned Leather’s accomplished playing.
One thing the updating doesn’t quite capture though is the hyper-real world of opera. Locating everything in a recognisable and relatable set of scenarios is all well and good but we are still in the world of opera logic, where characters turning a blind eye to rape and murder is nothing special which does clash with the modern reference point, and the production lacks a certain dramatic drive, the crescendo to the climax not quite there. Cherry Truluck’s design doesn’t help here either with a muddled mixture of styles, incorporating an underused video element. I did like the little thrust stage though, which is cleverly manipulated, which is effectively deployed in a couple of multi-levelled scenes, and the way in which Norton-Hale brings the action out of the stage, if only briefly.
This Don Giovanni is entertaining and intermittently very much so. It is also well sung by the youthful company, making it much more directly accessible prospect for an audience who wouldn’t necessarily make the trip to one of the larger opera houses. It may feel as if drama has been sacrificed for accessibility in certain places, but it still serves as a great entry-point into the world of opera.