Review: Scottish Opera’s Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni
Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Amid the ramped-up managerial turmoil behind the scenes at Scottish Opera, Sir Thomas Allen – the great English baritone-turned-director – has once again provided a solid season opener for the afflicted company. His production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is lucid, astute and, with stagecraft by regular design partner Simon Higlett, richly handsome. At last night’s premiere the vocal cast was uneven, but there were excellent performances from key players – notably Jacques Imbrailo’s virile Giovanni, Anna Devin’s sparkling Zerlina and Peter Kalman’s genial Leporello.

What lets the production down is the musical direction. It was clear from the limp overture that Speranza Scappucci lacked the wherewithal to drive the score: her tempos dragged and energy dissipated between stage and pit. Dialogue flowed better when she simply accompanied recitatives from the fortepiano, but the orchestra deserved better. Scottish Opera shouldn’t have risked such an inexperienced conductor for such an important production.

Imbrailo, singing Mozart’s villain for the first time, warmed up into a magnetic character, full of lust and predatory guile. His voice faltered slightly at the beginning of Act 2, but he came into his own in the graveyard scene and was compelling to the end. Devin makes an ideal Zerlina in sound and stage presence: the Irish soprano is a bright spark indeed. Lisa Milne has the vocal warmth for Elvira but flagged in Act Two’s tricky long aria. Allen choreographs the cast’s chemistry expertly; set against the backdrop of murky 18th century Venice, with masked sprites skulking in dark corners, it’s an atmospheric piece of theatre.