Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. 15 November.
What a success the Marlowe Theatre is, five years on from its rebuild. I’ve seen its main space full for pantomime, Philharmonia concerts, West End-style touring shows and much more. And of course a Glyndebourne tour guarantees a very excited buzz and hardly an empty seat.
A rather abrupt, very punctually launched, overture led smoothly – once musicians and audience settled – to Leporello’s entrance unaccountably clad in grubby, baggy singlet and underpants in this somewhat bitty 1950s take on the story. In many ways Brandon Cedel, as Leporello, is a mercurial cross between Prince Harry and David Tennant, and the star of this show. His immaculately controlled, impassioned, chocolate-rich bass voice works well for both his serious, vexed moments and for lighter spots such as the famous conquest list aria. And he’s quite an actor.
I last saw Duncan Rock (title role) as Don Giovanni, four years ago in a production in a gay nightclub at Charing Cross in which all the roles except his were gender-reversed. He was interesting then but his interpretation, voice and acting have all matured in the interim. The deceptively simple Act 1 seduction duet with Zerlina (good – especially in the later number in which she woos back Bozidar Smiljanic as Masetto) is exquisitely sung and his sensitive Act 2 serenade is an utter delight.
Andrii Goniukov is suitably imposing as Il Commendatore and Ana Maria Labin is a very creditable Donna Anna with the right level of pain and revenge in her voice most of the time. There’s some fine work in the pit under Pablo Gonzalez with mandolin playing from Francisco Correa for the serenade as an especially noteworthy moment.
As for the production itself – Jonathan Kent, who directed the original production and Lloyd Wood who directs this touring revival often stray perilously close to gimmickry. Why, for instance, do we have a fire at the end of Act 1? If it’s meant to prefigure Don Giovanni’s eventual descent then it’s painfully laboured. The set (designed by Paul Brown) makes so much use of the revolve that it quickly begins to feel unnecessarily fussy as it swings repeatedly to reveal different scenes. Much of the action is played in quite small contained spaces within on-revolve mini-sets. And if there’s an artistic or narrative reason for raking so steep within them that I was reminded of rock pools at the seaside as performers teetered rather alarmingly up and down, then I have failed to work out what it is.
In general though, it’s an enjoyable evening. I’ve seen Don Giovanni done in many quirky settings and eras and, actually, the material is so strong that the details of how you present it don’t matter much. Whatever you throw at the piece – provided the singing and playing is right – the music will carry it. That’s Mozart for you.