Edinburgh International Festival: The key clue to this Don Giovanni is in the name of the group performing it. It’s not an opera company, but Budapest Festival Orchestra, with their trailblazing conductor/director Ivan Fischer.
His concept is of a staged concert rather than a semi-staged opera. What that brings, mainly, is an undiluted focus on Mozart’s music, with minimal staging – only a couple of smallish platforms each side of a black box performing square – and an endlessly flexible company of body-stocking clad young actors forming the set, the props and the chorus.
The orchestra is out in the open of the Festival Theatre stalls rather than in the traditional pit, with various instrumentalists popping up the stairs to take centre stage with the singers. And, for the most part, it works.
The orchestra sets the scene brilliantly from Fischer’s first down beat. The harsh, aggressive brutality of the opening chords, accompanied visually by one of many disturbing on-stage tableaux, immediately places the central character as being not so much a ladies’ man, but something much more sinister. A sexual predator, abusing power and position, who will lie his way out of anything, Christopher Maltman’s Don totally nails it.
No wonder La ci darem was so seductively irresistible for Sylvia Schwartz’s vulnerable Zerlina, her own innocence shining through in Batti, batti with extraordinary sensitivity from the orchestral accompaniment. As the Don’s side-kick, José Fardilha was an earthy, appealingly comedic Leporello.
While recitatives were richly expressive in crystal clear Italian, and ensembles with Laura Aikin’s empathic Donna Anna and Lucy Crowe’s susceptible Elvira were strong, the minimalist stand and deliver style led to some lack of momentum in Act II, revived by a brilliantly effective finale as the actors metamorphosed into flames engulfing Don Giovanni en route to his inevitable end.
Until tomorrow. Today 7pm.