Opera Scotland

Playbill for premiere of Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni In Scotland

Posted 13 Oct 2013

Mozart's operas came late to Britain. The first performance of Don Giovanni, sung in Italian, was at His Majesty's Theatre, London, on 12 April 1817.  Immediately the opera proved immensely popular, and had an extended run.  An English version was given on 20 May 1817 at Covent Garden.  Just over a year later, on 9 September 1818, it was being performed in Edinburgh's Pantheon, in a one act form in Italian with well-known singers Madame Fodor, Signora Corri and Signor Angrisani, advertisements declaring "Detached Scenes with the original Recitatives, Songs Duets and Trios will be given."

Just two days later, a performance  was given in English at Edinburgh's Theatre Royal in two acts, advertised "as performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden with the greatest success."  Don Juan was played by Mr Sinclair and Zerlina by Miss Byrne,  and it was 'adapted to the British stage, with new and appropriate machinery, scenery, decorations and dresses."

Don Giovanni has been in the repertoire ever since.  Operatic impresarios such as Henry Corri and Arthur Rousbey played the title role.  Carl Rosa included it in his company's first Scottish tour in 1874, and in subsequent visits too.  There was an Italian performance by Mapleson's company in 1874 at Glasgow's Theatre Royal, when the title role was sung by a 24-yr-old Pole.  This talented man soon retrained as a tenor, and under the name Jean de Reszke, was considered the greatest singer of his generation. 

The Edinburgh International Festival has seen a number of notable stagings, beginning with the Glyndebourne visit of 1948, when Carl Ebert's famous production was conducted by Rafael Kubelik.  The excellent cast included Paolo Silveri (Giovanni), Ljuba Welitsch (Anna), Hilde Gueden (Zerlina) and Ian Wallace (Masetto).  Fritz Busch conducted in 1951, in new designs by John Piper, when Owen Brannigan sang Leporello and young Geraint Evans appeared as Masetto.  Ottavio and Zerlina were the wonderful Canadian couple, Leopold Simoneau and Pierette Alarie.

In 1965, Carlo Maria Giulini conducted and directed the Festival's own production, with Renato Capecchi as Giovanni and Richard Lewis returning as Ottavio (having been in that 1948 cast).  Paolo Montarsolo was Leporello and Ilva Ligabue Elvira.  In 1973 and the following year, the Festival mounted a production directed and designed by Peter Ustinov.  Daniel Barenboim was conducting an opera for the very first time and the cast included Roger Soyer (Giovanni), Geraint Evans (Leporello), Heather Harper (Elvira) and Helen Donath (Zerlina).

Over a number of decades, Don Giovanni was often given by both Carl Rosa and Sadler's Wells. More recently there were several stagings at the Perth Festival including an appearance in the title role by Anthony Michaels-Moore in 1990.

Scottish Opera first mounted it in 1964, directed by Peter Ebert.  This staging was dominated by the striking sets of Ralph Koltai - two huge slabs, one black, one white - night and day, good and evil?  They slid around the stage as required to lighten or darken the atmosphere and came together to crush our hero at the end.  The production was revived many times over the next dozen years, usually conducted by Alexander Gibson with Peter van der Bilt as Giovanni.  Ian Wallace and Stafford Dean were memorable Leporellos.

There have been other productions since then, including those directed by David Pountney (Robert Lloyd as Giovanni, Willard White Leporello and Felicity Palmer Elvira in 1979), Graham Vick (Sergei Leiferkus and Karita Mattila 1985) and John Cox (Peter Mattei and Joan Rodgers 1995).


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