Opera Scotland

Don Giovanni in Scotland

Posted 20 Apr 2022

Mozart's operas generally came late to Britain. The first performance here 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 declared "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."

An early performance with artists of international standing was given by the Italian Opera Company of Giuseppe De Begnis at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal on 27 November 1832.  De Begnis was himself a renowned comedian and had created the part of Dandini in Rossini's La cenerentola (Rome 1817).  While he was obvious casting for Leporello, the title role is even more interesting.  Domenico Donzelli was actually a tenor, not a baritone, and was the original Ramiro in La cenerentola. The year before his Edinburgh visit, at La Scala, Milan, he had created the leading role of Pollione in Bellini's Norma, which he also created in London.  Allowing for some musical adjustments and alterations in technique, it still seems astonishing that he was able to sing the character of Count Almaviva in the same week, both Rossini's tenor youthful character and Mozart's more mature baritone.

Don Giovanni has been in the repertoire ever since.  Operatic impresarios such as Henry Corri (1870) played the title role.  Corri's wife, the Edinburgh-born soprano Ida Gilliess, included Donna Anna among her leading parts such as Lucrezia Borgia, Lucia and Norma.  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, or singing actor, of his generation.

Edinburgh International Festival

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), Luigi Alva (Ottavio) and Helen Donath (Zerlina).  In 2017, Iván Fischer conducted and directed Christopher Maltman as Giovanni, with Lucy Crowe (Elvira) and Jeremy Ovenden (Ottavio).


Over a number of decades, Don Giovanni was often given on extensive tours 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. 

Roland Wood appeared there with English Touring Opera in 2008, and Nicholas Lester in 2016.

Scottish Opera

Scottish Opera first mounted the work 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.  The first Zerlina was Margaret Price, later to be a world-famous interpreter of Anna. Subsequent interpreters of this part included two Scottish sopranos, Elizabeth Robson and Patricia Hay.  Giovanni was also sung by John Shirley-Quirk, Don Ottavio by Werner Krenn and Robert Tear.  Anna was dramatically played by Ludmilla Andrew and Luisa Bosabalian.

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).  More recently, Tim Albery also directed in 2006, with Peter Savidge (Giovanni), James Rutherford (Leporello) and Maria Costanza Nocentini (Anna).

The present staging, directed by Sir Thomas Allen, himself a world-renowned player of the title role, opened in 2013.  Jacques Imbrailo took the title role, Lisa Milne, Zerlina in 1995, now tackling Elvira. Ottavio was sung by Ed Lyon, with Peter Kálmán as Leporello.


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