Don Giovanni, Glyndebourne review — white-hot performances send lothario to hell

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It is just over a year since Arts Council England announced major cutbacks to its funding of opera. The changes were announced as part of a general policy aimed at “levelling up”, a central government edict to move resources out of London and the south-east to more deprived areas of the country.

One of the biggest losers was Glyndebourne, which had half the funding for its autumn tour and educational work axed. Even with its previous level of subsidy the tour had been lossmaking, so Glyndebourne decided it was unsustainable to continue touring in the same way.

For this year’s autumn programme, then, Glyndebourne is back in its home theater. Ticket sales have been strong for the two operas — Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore — and there will also be youth events, two oratorios in performance and Christmas concerts.

The two operas were both seen at this summer’s festival and returned with new, mostly younger casts (the tour always afforded the possibility to further the careers of singers on the cusp of bigger things). Sometimes a performance that failed to ignite in the summer comes back with renewed vigour — and so it was here.

The FT’s review of Mariame Clément’s production of Don Giovanni from this summer it was deemed mudded. Rather than trying to find logic to it — who are these cheerleaders in pink tutus? Why does the giant wedding cake make a return appearance? — view it instead as a fantasy world of semi-abstract locales, where random people of different classes mix and meet, encounter comedy and tragedy.

The cheerleaders in pink tutus (members of the Glyndebourne Chorus) proved baffling to earlier reviewers © Glyndebourne Productions. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

In Andrei Bondarenko’s well-sung Don Giovanni, the drama has a compelling central force, at once alluring and dangerous, drawing all towards him as he increasingly spins out of control. The other outstanding vocal performance comes from Alexandra Lowe, who surmounts the challenges of Donna Elvira’s role with style and confidence. Sam Carl is vocally heavy-handed, but squeezes Chaplinesque comedy out of his portrayal of Leporello as a mundane middle manager with hangdog expression and raincoat. (The mundane men win in the end here, when their nemesis Don Giovanni is dragged down to hell.)

There is a vocally clean-cut Donna Anna from Kseniia Proshina, although her soprano might ideally have more body, and Nico Darmanin is an able Don Ottavio. Charlotte Bowden offers a small-voiced, neatly-sung Zerlina, contrasted with Michael Ronan’s sturdier Masetto, and Ivo Stanchev has the volume but not the top vocal quality as the Commendatore. All are fired up to white heat in a well-played performance of irresistible, headlong energy from Stephanie Childress and the Glyndebourne Sinfonia.

For the time being Glyndebourne says it will keep its focus on an autumn program back at base that maintains the tour’s longstanding mission to deliver opera at accessible prices. The company remains hopeful for the future, but until the broad picture of arts funding changes — who knows?


To December 2,

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