Opera: Don Giovanni

Mozart gets butchered

By Stephen Pollard, November 11, 2010

Have you heard of Rufus Norris? It seems you should have, because Mr Norris is a more important artistic figure than Mozart.

Actually, that is not quite right. Mr Norris thinks he is more important than Mozart. That is the only conclusion I can draw from his production of Don Giovanni at the ENO.

In 30 years of opera-going, I have had some pretty awful evenings. None has come close to this. It is rare to find a performance entirely devoid of redeeming features. This had none. In fact, it was so offensively bad that I left at the interval. Life really is too short to be party to the butchery of a masterpiece.

Whether it is because there is so much meat in Don Giovanni, or because as one of the great peaks of artistic achievement it attracts the bloody-minded, the unfortunate fact is that it has suffered unduly from productions which impose directors' often perverse will upon the piece.

Probably the oddest I have seen was by the East German director, Ruth Berghaus, for Welsh National Opera, which was set on the moon. But that was a gem alongside this witless farrago, which deserves to be remembered only in the hall of artistic infamy.

For some reason, during the overture a series of intertwined lumps of metal hang over the stage, through which pass - loudly - an electric current. Heaven forbid anyone should be able to hear the music. Oh, and there is a rape acted out on stage, too. How clever of Mr Norris to insert what Mozart and da Ponte missed out.

I have tried to forget the rest of a production (not the usual habit of a critic) which, with its would-be "darkness" and drab modern dress, thinks it is being insightful but is merely trite, and which, in the entirely bland singing and characterisation of Iain Paterson as the Don, offers no explanation for his sexual allure.

The sets are ugly - think a vandalised public lavatory - and the conducting of Kirill Karabits lifeless. Please do not waste your time or money on this dire rubbish.

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Last updated: 4:18pm, November 11 2010