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Review: Opera North’s Don Giovanni

· Ali Turner · Culture

Opera North's take on Don Giovanni is bat-shit crazy.

Don Giovanni

Puppets, rumpy-pumpy, ghosts returned from the dead and a flying opera singer – this is not your usual opera.

Okay, so the first thing you need to know about Don Giovanni is that it’s long. This bad boy is three hours from start to finish so you’re in for the long haul. The second thing you need to know is that it’s absolutely crackers – and you know what they say, time flies when you’re having fun.

Opera North's Don Giovanni

Credit: Bill Cooper

It all starts in a rather conventional way. The curtain stays down while they play through an extended prologue. It always feels a little odd to sit looking at a curtain, but it also draws your attention to one of the opera’s most under-appreciated assets – the orchestra. They were superb all night, playing through Mozart’s flowing music with gusto.

Even when the curtain rises, you could easily believe this was a traditional retelling of one of the world’s most famous womanisers. Everyone’s kitted out in Victorian attire as Giovanni makes a play for Donna Anna, it’s not until he kills her father and escapes through a mysteriously lit door that you realise strange things are afoot. It’s a time machine and the dates above the door tell us that we’re hurtling towards the 1950s.

Opera North's Don Giovanni

Credit: Bill Cooper

It’s hard to imagine such an iconic score paired with a Dr Who-style epic, but it works. Giovanni’s time machine becomes an escape hatch, getting him out of many a sticky situation – and believe me, he gets himself into a lot of them. In this three hour marathon, he forces himself on someone, murders someone, tries to seduce someone’s wife, messes around with his servant’s sweetheart and almost gets him killed (deliberately). He’s quite a piece of work.

But because all this is happening, you don’t feel the time passing. It helps that Mozart’s opera is so diverse. You move from epic solos to hilarious duets and big numbers that bring what is actually a surprisingly large main cast together to raise the roof.

Opera North's Don Giovanni

Credit: Bill Cooper

And although it’s Don Giovanni’s name above the door, he’s not necessarily the highlight. William Dazeley plays a crafty but cruel Giovanni, and during the course of this performance, he did things I’d never expect to see an opera singer do (including flying), but this is very much a joint effort.

The main cast is eight-strong and they’re all equally good, even if it did take a little while for them to get into the swing of things. I’d have a hard time picking a favourite – Jennifer Davis as Donna Anna gave an incredible performance, singing beautiful duets with Nicholas Watts, but it’s fair to say that Kathryn Rudge took her role to the next level with a rather spectacular solo performed while, ahem, going at it. Then there’s Elizabeth Atherton’s Donna Elvira – wronged, angry and ultimately broken, she comes across as a strong, confident woman who belongs in the modern world, not the Victorian one she’s come from.

Opera North's Don Giovanni

Credit: Bill Cooper

And we mustn’t forget the ever-impressive John Savournin. As Don Giovanni’s servant, he’s the light relief – Mozart’s darkest opera is also incredibly funny and Savournin has a way of bringing this to life that few can pull off – it’s not just his acting either, he makes a mean puppet. Look out for Punch & Judy-style numbers to go alongside the Carry On film humour (there really are lots of rude gestures in this and it’s hilarious).

One last thing before I leave you to decide if you’re going to book tickets – the sets are really quite exceptional. They close in to give you pinpoint focus, either on the singers or their puppet twins, but when the screen open, it reveals a versatile space that works across the decades. It’s got secret hidey holes, multiple exits, a window high above the ground and even a balcony and they use it all to impressive effect. Don Giovanni controls the action from above, Masetto hides so he can see if his missus betrays him and the Commendatore’s head rises out of the stage itself when he comes to dinner.

From the dance numbers to the stunts, this is a production that’s absolutely full of surprises, but it’s also one of Mozart’s best and they perform it with panache. So much so, in fact, that our Don got booed at the end, in a good way, of course.

Don Giovanni will be at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 3rd March 2018. Book your tickets now.