With the hideous machinations of modern-day sexual predators such as Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein continuing to cause outrage, it seems way out of kilter to be viewing Mozart and Da Ponte’s remorseless serial molester Don Giovanni as a likeable scallywag. Yet that is what Scottish Opera’s revived production by Sir Thomas Allen succeeds in doing.
The vaguely menacing, shadowy Hammer Horror set by designer Simon Higlett, its mobile configurations visually ingenious if mechanically noisy, lends itself perfectly to a dramaturgy that seems deliberately unchallenging, comfortable with its sports dinner humour (I’m no prude, but I winced at the laddish boastfulness of Leporello’s Catalogue Aria), and altogether accepting that boys will be boys.
In short, it sits on the fence, governed by an anodyne contentment that makes the disappointment of the opera’s diabolical peroration unsurprising. Scattered thunder claps throughout seem like amateurish interruptions.
Thank goodness, then, for a cast that give us a musical experience worth celebrating, and a Scottish Opera Orchestra, under Stuart Stratford, stylishly on form. Roland Wood, almost a permanent company presence these days, applies pernicious dominance to the title role with a vocal delivery as rich in venom as seduction. Zachary Altman counters that with his lighter-sprung Leporello, just occasionally under-projected.
The female protagonists are a matching tour de force. Hye-Youn Lee’s Donna Anna produces some of the production’s most impassioned singing, while Kitty Whately, as the discarded Donna Elvira, echoes her predicament with an endless, captivating range of vocal expression. Lea Shaw contributes a fresh and frothy Zerlino, against the agile jealousy of Emyr Wyn Jones as fiancé Masetto.
This production undersells Keel Watson’s magisterial Commendatore, and Pablo Bemsch’s Don Ottavio, though movingly portrayed, wavers periodically. In theatrical terms, it’s an opportunity missed.