Musical Opinion

Musical Opinion November 2004

Giuseppe Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni is an intriguing musicological curiosity, a kind of trailer to the greater opera that Mozart created from the same source material. It was an imaginative choice for Bampton Classical Opera whose production was first seen at Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire, before being staged at St John's, Smith Square, on 16 September.

Composed in one act, it is a more compact score that Mozart's, which it predated by eight months, but substantially the same in its dramaturgical structure. The libretto by Giovanni Bertati, a frequent collaborator of Gazzaniga's, incorporates Giovanni's attack on Anna and the murder of her father, after which she enters a convent; the arrival of Elvira, followed by another of the Don's conquests, Ximena, and the eruption of the wedding party, bride and groom here named Maturina and Biagio. At this half-way point it moves to the Commendatore's mausoleum which is visited by the abandoned Ottavio; then comes the invitation to supper, a digression in which Giovanni and his servant Pasquariello, a name harking back to the story's commedia dell'arte origins, sing the praises of food, wine and the beauties of Venice, before the arrival of the Stone Guest and Giovanni's dispatch to Hell.

Gazzaniga's music has pace, vitality and atmosphere and though it lacks the character development at which Mozart excelled, it propels the action along via effective solos and ensembles, a tenor Giovanni lending brightness to the vocal palette, with a small chorus and an orchestra of strings, oboe, horn and trumpet.

There is an interesting twist to Pasquariello's catalogue aria, delivered with zest by the baritone Mark Saberton, in that Elvira joins in to turn it into a lively duet. She is the principal female character and Sarah Redgwick infused her singing with fiery personality. She was strongly partnered in a jealousy duet with Maturina, each accusing the other of madness, byt the personable Rebecca Bottone, who was equally striking in the aria in which she turns the table on the Don by pursuing him. She exudes sexual allure and projected notes and words clearly. Nicholas Merryweather did double duty playing both the offended Biagio, whose aria of outrage he delivered powerfully, and the avenging Commendatore. Daniel Norman sang Giovanni with demonic energy, while Huw Rhys-Evans in the other role of Ottavio, provided vocal contrast with his smooth, measured tones. Helen Semple's Anna, Cheryl Enever's Ximena and Christopher Bowen as the servant Lanterna made positive contributions.

In the absence of scenery the production by Jeremy Gray, who was also responsible with Gilly French for the English translation, relied on lighting effects, though in the second half the top level of the stage was dominated by the Commendatore's mausoleum. The costumes were late 20th-century.

The conductor, Jason Lai, captured the spirit of the piece with his small band of London Mozart Players, who also gave polished accounts of extracts from Gluck's Don Juan ballet played as short overtures to the two parts.

Margaret Davies