AFTER a successful opening season in 2011, Garsington Opera’s second year at the stunning Wormsley Estate, near Stokenchurch, kicked off with one of the most famous productions of all – Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
I must confess I’m a novice to the opera. I’ve certainly never seen a live show before and as keen as I was to try it, it was with some trepidation that I sat in my seat, fearing the whole thing might be a hard evening’s work.
There was no need to worry, though. What followed was a thoroughly enjoyable, often spectacular production that was easy to follow and a pleasure to see performed.
Don Giovanni tells the tale of a serial philanderer – a user and abuser of women, whose wanton antics come with a price. After killing the father of one of his would-be conquests (or possibly victims) in the opening scenes, the predatory Giovanni finds a growing list of people out to wreak their revenge upon him – even as his own passionate approach to life threatens to seduce them.
This quality production, directed by Daniel Slater and conducted by Douglas Boyd, impresses right from the moment you take your seat in the pavilion. This version has been given a contemporary makeover, using crisp, modern sets with minimalist décor.
And when the music starts it becomes a hair-raising experience, the score playfully telling the story and the cast’s powerful vocals bringing the characters to vivid and often comedic life. The pavilion’s acoustics were excellent, making it easy to appreciate the quality of both the singing and the orchestra.
This particular opera is a humourous morality tale – as such it perhaps doesn’t pack the emotional punch that many who are not terribly familiar with the form might expect. But it is consistently funny and involving, with plenty of drama to keep the pace from flagging.
The performances were, to my admittedly untrained eye, faultless. Every member of the cast had an abundance of charisma and delivered amazing vocals. As Giovanni himself Grant Doyle was a perfect mix of arrogance and sleazy charm, while Joshua Bloom as his servant Leporello made a fine comic foil. The females of the company were equally good, particularly Sophie Bevan as the scorned Elvira and Mary Bevan as the flighty Zerlina, Giovanni’s latest target who is both fascinated and eventually repelled by his behaviour.
The contemporary setting – complete with iPads and the occasional sado-masochistic overtones - works well, although you have to wonder how Giovanni has escaped the attention of the law for so long. He might have been able to get away with his form of sexual predation in 18th century Italy, but you'd hope the police would be paying a bit more attention these days.
While I was won over right from the start, I found the second act slightly more urgent and absorbing – though that may simply be that my brain had fully clicked with the mechanics of the opera by then. But either way, the show was a superb evening of entertainment, and left me eager to see more.
But at Garsington the opera itself is only part of the attraction (admittedly a major one). The opera pavilion is set within the beautiful grounds of the Wormsley Estate, surrounded by lush greenery, and a beautiful lake which makes a perfect picnic spot.
The show is structured with an extended interval so the audience has plenty of time to take dinner in between Acts. This really adds to the experience, transforming it not only into a great trip to the opera, but a wonderful evening out in its own right.
Garsington’s 2012 season runs until July 3, featuring rotating performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Vivaldi’s L’Olimpiade and Offenbach’s La Perichole.
Tickets range from £95 to £170 and include a suggested but non-obligatory donation of £60. To book call 01865 361636 or go to www.garsingtonopera.org