Don Giovanni - Mozart - Calixto Bieito - English National Opera (Glyndebourne)

I was at the Coliseum on 26 June 2001 for a modern version of Mozart's Don Giovanni (or Don Juan, the exploits of the famous lover of history), libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, after Bertati. Joseph Swensen, making his ENO debut, conducted the performance. The Director was Calixto Bieito. This opera is purely a vehicle for sex and violence with the women offering themselves sexually to men, then when the men accept they are said to be rapists!! A case of wanting their cake and eating it too!!! Graham Vick's supposedly modern experimental staging of Don Giovanni shows the Don as perversely depraved.

Anna, Ottavio and Elvira wear absurd rococo costumes and wigs. Ottavio comes to Don's party in drag. Bizarrely dressed extras parade at Don's abode, forever stepping over the pile of excrement creeping on stage. Zerlina, Massetto and their wedding guests look as if they have stepped straight out of Room at the Top (the famous fifties film starring Laurence Harvey, Simone Signouret, Heather Sears and Donald Wolfit).

This production was first seen at Glyndebourne where Martyn Brabbins conducted with great panache but little sentiment, but then this re-make is an opera without feelings, at least of the higher variety! In this modern-dress interpretation Don Giovanni has sex in the back of a car and the characteristic traditional champagne (where Don Giovanni sings the explosive "Champagne Aria") was replaced with a drug and alcohol cocktail. The violence and sexually explicit scenes provoked angry scenes at the Coliseum on 31 May 2001. The main characters were revelling in a drug-induced orgy, explicit language, simulating gross sexual acts and snorting cocaine. When Bieito, Artistic Directors of the Teatre Romea in Barcelona, linked arms with the singers to take a bow, many people booed, hissed and waived programmes. Michael Seligman, an investment consultant from London, denounced the performance as a blatant insult to the composer, "I certainly booed the producer. I would never see another performance of his again. Mozart is a very subtle man but the Director is as subtle as a donkey. Absolutely nothing in this production was left to the imagination. " Another man was so disgusted he watched the performance with his eyes closed - "the music was quite good, you know" (he said)!! However, Camila Bryant, a record company owner in her late 30s hailed Mr Bieito as the "Quentin Tarantino of the opera world. It was brilliant... the composer would have loved it. " I say it was a real hellish nightmare!!!

In July 2001, another world away as it were from the Bieito fiasco, Don Giovanni was staged as the final production - after nearly 10 years - of the merged Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy Opera departments under the cumbersome title of London Royal Schools Opera. From next season they will once again go their separate ways. The conductor of this production was Colin Davis and the producer John Copley (colleagues in the old days at Covent Garden): a real nostalgic performance, with Mozart performed as it should be performed.

In the ENO production Leporello was performed by Nathan Berg; Donna Anna by Claire Rutter; Don Giovanni by Gary Magee; Commendatore by Philips Ens; Don Ottavio by Paul Nilen; Donna Elvira by Claire Weston; Zerlina by Linda Richardson and Masetto by Leslie John Flanagan.


Verinha Ottoni.


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