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In Review > International

Don Giovanni

Opera Holland Park

In Review Holland Park Don Giovanni hdl 817
Oliver Platt’s shipboard staging of Don Giovanni for Opera Holland Park, with Riches as Giovanni, center
© Robert Workman

THE VAGARIES of English weather even in the month of “flaming June” can sometimes have a negative impact on al fresco opera performances. Opera Holland Park performs a two-month season in a temporary theater seating 1,000 and erected in a pleasant London park each summer; this year, the full program comprises four mainstage operas, plus an evening provided by students from the Royal Ballet School. But a stormy night on June 5 left spectators distinctly cold if not actually wet (the stage and auditorium are covered) during a new production of Don Giovanni; the inclement weather must also have affected the performers, though they pressed on bravely regardless.

Director Oliver Platt and designer Neil Irish presented Mozart’s dark-toned comedy on an ocean-going liner, with Irish’s costumes suggesting the 1930s. What the switch in period added to our understanding of the piece was not immediately clear. Irish’s main set represented a deck-side row of metal doors leading to individual cabins. Occasionally this opened up to reveal larger public spaces—Giovanni’s impromptu party at his “casinetto,” for instance—but the shadowy, nocturnal Spanish cityscape that usually provides the background for Giovanni’s nefarious activities was missed. The Commendatore, in his second encounter with Giovanni and Leporello, appeared not as a statue in a graveyard but as a body in a larder, covered by a sheet. The unrepentant seducer’s descent to hell, staged as a man-overboard suicide, felt equally unconvincing.

Despite unhelpful visuals, the cast brought forth some solid achievements. Ashley Riches was a dour, bullying Giovanni, aided and abetted by the saturnine Leporello of his fellow bass-baritone John Savournin; both enunciated the text with keen intelligence. Australian soprano Lauren Fagan’s Donna Anna had solid vocal strength and serious artistic purpose, though like many interpreters of the role she had difficulty in negotiating the tricky final section of “Non mi dir.” Ben Johnson’s straitlaced Don Ottavio was allotted both of the character’s arias, bringing to them a sense of style and elegance that matched his physical interpretation of the role. Victoria Simmonds’s vividly sung Donna Elvira combined edginess with determination. Ellie Laugharne was a sparky Zerlina, well matched by baritone Ian Beadle’s dangerously volatile Masetto. Graeme Broadbent left a strong impression as the Commendatore. 

The evening’s most consistent musical contribution came from Chinese–Australian conductor Dane Lam and the City of London Sinfonia, who provided a vital, dramatically conceived underlay to the performance in stormy circumstances.  —George Hall 

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