Pros: Energy and humour abound in this contemporary production of Don Giovanni that explores the issue of toxic masculinity.
Cons: Some of the scenes and songs seemed superfluous to the story and could have been trimmed out to make the production tighter.
Waterperry Gardens is a significant trek (1 hour 30 mins drive) outside of London for me, but we have family in the area so I decided to combine a reviewing excursion with a family visit. Two birds, one ticket!
The Waterperry Opera Festival is definitely a suitable family affair with several different productions a day starting with Peter Rabbit for the little ones, moving on to the Young Artists’ production of Mansfield Park, and then rounding up with Don Giovanni for a more adult audience in the evening. Definitely worth a jaunt out of the capital.
Set in the grounds of Waterperry Gardens, guests are invited to arrive early and enjoy the surroundings with their own picnic dinner, which adds to the ambience and family vibe. You could make a day of it, pack a feast and see a few shows. Like Glyndebourne but minus the dinner jacket.
So onto the opera itself. Held in an amphitheatre in Waterperry Gardens, the young cast and orchestra did a tremendous job performing in the round and belting out the songs, impressively without microphones.
The quality of operatic voices and physical performance was equal to the best in London, but for half the cost or less. The orchestra were also exceptionally good. My only niggles were the lack of diversity; I would have liked to see at least one person from a non-white background included (it was an entirely white cast and orchestra) and maybe a more diverse range of ages.
Oskar McCarthy was particularly brilliant in the role of Don Giovanni’s servant, Leporello. He brought a mischievous humour and wit to the character, breaking up the tragedy and counterbalancing Don Giovanni’s abhorrent behaviour with his humanity.
I thought that Don Giovanni was a bit of an odd choice for a production that aims to address the issues raised by the #MeToo movement in 2018. Director Laura Attridge did manage to tackle the more misogynistic parts of the plot skillfully – i.e. Zerlina’s very troubling song ‘Beat me’ was given a clever, sexy twist with Anna Cavaliero’s physical performance so it seemed more to do with spanking, and of course Don Giovanni gets his comeuppance in the end. However, Donna Elvira’s complete lack of self-respect where men are concerned and Zerlina’s abusive relationship were ultimately never resolved.
On stage sat barely any set at all, but it wasn’t really needed as the strength of the acting told us all we needed to know. A few props were used which were sometimes a bit incongruous and superfluous to the scene’s requirements. For example, during one of her solos Donna Elvira unpacks a case of her clothes for apparently no reason (it didn’t seem in anyway linked with what she was talking about). I just wouldn’t have bothered to include it unless it was crucial to the action.
This production sees the tale set in modern times. Whilst some of the costumes were spot on (the hen and stag do clothes of Masetto and Zerlina), others weren’t quite right. For example, I found it difficult to differentiate between Leporello and Don Giovanni whose clothes seemed to be of similar look and status (both wearing rolled up chinos, shirts and waistcoats). This was quite critical to the story as they swap clothes to carry off a deception. Putting Leporello in a tracksuit and trainers and Don Giovanni in a tuxedo for example would have been a much clearer modern signifier of status.
However, the flaws were very small compared to the overall quality of the performance. It was well staged and performed with pretty much faultless singing and well worth a trip out of London. Book your tickets for 2019 now!
Writer: Jeremy Sams (English translation)
Director: Laura Atteridge
Starring: Jerome Knox (Don Giovanni), Oskar McCarthy (Leporello), Anna Caviliero (Zerlina), Alison Manifold (Donna Elvira)
Booking Until: This current run is complete, however the Waterperry Festival returns in 2019.
Booking Link: www.waterperryoperafestival.co.uk