Radical modern version produces controversial results

Elizabeth Bouman
Elizabeth Bouman
Opera Otago opened a season of Mozart’s Don Giovanni  (1787), in Dunedin’s Mayfair Theatre last Saturday, writes Elizabeth Bouman.

Staging great operas in modern 21st century idiom is not unusual, and Dunedin’s John Drummond revised this libretto quite radically, with rather contentious results.

The original story follows "exploits" of  Don Juan (Robert Tucker), a great lover whose charisma captures all women. 

Drummond has directed Don’s amorous overtures to that of a devious sexual predator in a corporate office scenario where he is head of marketing, with Leporello (Adam Jon) the original manservant now his PA, chairman and founder of Commander Security (Robert Lindsay), his daughter Anna (Ingrid Formson-Nurse) and Don Ottavio (Ben Madden) head of security.

A murder occurs after an attempted rape on the boardroom table, but my word allowance here limits outlining ensuing events, other than to say Tucker is outstanding as a womanising slob, creating a loathing from every female in the audience. 

His bullied, wimpish PA, now called Lee Porello (who appeared to "swing" towards the Don), sang the famous "Catalogue Aria" with the Don’s conquests punchline changed to  "But in Australia ..."  Olivia Pike as Elvira, a former Don conquest, played a strong role throughout, showing confidence and vocal ability, as too did charmingly naive Zerlina (Josephine Chan) and Masetto (Scott Bezett).

Five company employees and seven waitresses from the Foxhole Cafe formed a strong chorus.  Jonathan Drummond (UK) directed eight members of the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra in a stylistically Mozartian performance.  Spoken English recitatives contained local references, and a cellphone face-time aria was very relevant. 

I found scene changes unsettling and intrusive,  as chorus members swapped white chairs, tables and sofas in subdued lighting, always at the height of emotional pivotal arias. 

The final supernatural scene with flames was very effective — "Such is the end of the evildoer: the death of a sinner always reflects his life."

I think Mozart would accept this radical modern version of his work — he was, after all, a bit of a naughty lad himself.


Don Giovanni

Opera Otago, Mayfair Theatre, Saturday, August 18


If you have never seen this opera before, then best not to see this production first. This version of the Don is very 2 dimensional, almost comic and the opera itself has lost alot of its original beauty and intrigue. Most importantly though, the opera desperately needs subtitles, unless you know Italian of course. The performers were well rehearsed and gave a smooth perormance but feel Ingrid Fomison-Nurse and Olivia Pike would have been better suited to their characters had they swapped roles. The set changes didn't bother me too much, however the costumes were very disappointing. It is massively important that we support our local opera company and artists and I urge all to go but my advice is to watch a good production first on a DVD or over the internet, with subtitles, that way you will have a better understanding of what is being sung and might even be amused by the modern twist John Drummond has tried to give this production.