Don Giovanni, Upstairs at the Gatehouse, review: ‘Mozart meets Morse’

Dress rehearsals of HGO's Don Giovanni

Dress rehearsals of HGO's Don Giovanni - Credit: Archant

Hampstead Garden Opera’s sell-out concert provided a fond farewell to the Gatehouse, reports David Winskill.

Mozart’s two act opera premiered in Prague in 1787 and was later described by Gounod as “a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection”. So, no pressure for an amateur operatic outfit!

Director Genevieve Raghu has transposed the action to a contemporary Oxford college with more than a nod to a certain fictional police Inspector and Mozart enthusiast. The libretto, updated by Benjamin Hamilton must be the first opera to refer to iPads and Tinder.

A degree ceremony provides the backdrop for this tale of Don Giovanni and his conquests. Or, rather, as we are now in the 21st century, of Professor Giovanni and his predatory treatment of women, rape, the murder of a college Master, lying and abuse of friendships and position.

We are no more than ten minutes in before the College Master (played with sepulchral relish by John Suddaby) is murdered.

Jerome Knox’s Giovanni is a three hour tour de force: well voiced, authoritative, and able to squeeze the humour out of this sordid tale. The gangly James Quillan is a brilliant Leporello. His strange relationship with his tutor perhaps best described in his despairing “I really have to leave him before I pick up more bad habits.”

The spurned Elvira, (“Where’s the bastard hiding?”) is a bundle of wronged energy and Luci Briginshaw’s desolate Anna delivers some marvellous passionate moments.

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Rachel Tolzman is wonderful juggling the contrasting roles of faithful fiancée (to Robert Clark’s excellent Masetto) and a woman fascinated by the attraction and pure evil of the professor.

Much use is made of computer graphics and references to Kindles, e-dating and the digital domination of the world. The famous balcony scene is bang up to date as curvaceous cuties float across the stage to illustrate Giovanni’s obsession.

Able support from Musica Poetica made this sell-out concert a fitting way for Hampstead Garden Opera to bid a fond farewell to the Gatehouse before starting a new life down the hill at Jackson’s Lane.

Rating: 4/5 stars