Garsington opens its second season at Wormsley with a new production of Mozart's opera by Daniel Slater, whose imaginative staging of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream was the final highlight at the festival's previous address. This time around, Slater seems to have fallen victim to the curse of an opera notorious as a directors' graveyard.

It doesn't help that Leslie Travers' set, a multi-level assembly of rooms in what could be a modern apartment block or hotel, is so vague about what they are and to whom they belong; the characters wander through them as if it's communal property. In Da Ponte's original libretto, Giovanni's attempted rape of Donna Anna takes place off stage. Here, instead of pursuing her assailant, we see her take the lead in a piece of sexual roleplay that involves him being chained to a table; predator becomes victim. Throughout, Grant Doyle's Giovanni registers more as a secondary member of the group than the anarchic instigator of unbridled sexuality in whose vortex the rest of the characters are swept along.

There are other dubious moments. Callum Thorpe's Masetto takes Mary Bevan's Zerlina literally during her disarming aria Batti, Batti, and strikes her hard in the face; she bears the scar for the rest of the show. But there are also some good jokes, such as Leporello's catalogue of his boss's conquests pouring out of a printer in a single, seemingly endless sheet.

Douglas Boyd's conducting provides solid propulsion, and there's some fine vocalism, especially from Natasha Jouhl's pro-active Anna and real-life sisters Sophie and Mary Bevan as Elvira and Zerlina respectively, while Joshua Bloom's Leporello proves livelier than Giovanni himself. But the action is often confused and occasionally perverse, its rewrites weakening the narrative.In rep until 2 July.


George Hall

The GuardianTramp

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