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‘There are an awful lot of people in this world who abuse power like Don Giovanni. Look at Brexit’
Baritone Christopher Purves talks about what Mozart's Don Giovanni has to say to modern audiences
Mozart’s womanising Don Giovanni is one of opera’s most notorious characters and this autumn Christopher Purves is taking on the controversial role. He spoke to us about the character’s amorality and magnetism – and why the same abuse of power can be seen in modern politics
You’re taking on the role of Don Giovanni at English National Opera this month. What’s your understanding of this notorious character?
As far as I’m concerned, Don Giovanni is about as amoral as you can get. There doesn’t seem to be anything that really touches him, it’s all centred between his legs. The opera is about how a man can use his power and influence and his status in society to sleep with women. I think the character is less complex than a lot of people make out. His main aim is to sleep with as many people as possible, and that’s it.
By pretty much any modern standard, Don Giovanni’s behaviour and attitude towards women is unacceptable. So why do you think the opera – and the character – remains so popular today?
I don’t think that behaviour ever been acceptable. But why does it still exist? Why do we still have tabloid headlines that say ‘SEX ROGUE AT LARGE!’ It’s behaviour that is reprehensible – no one can ever defend Don Giovanni in any way.
But to a certain extent I think people do find characters like him – in real life – magnetic. I would run a mile from someone like him, and I never run. But there are people who will find this guy extraordinary and they’ll want him at their parties.
So what does the opera have to say to today’s audiences?
There are an awful lot of people in this world who are reprehensible, people who’ve got power and abuse it. Are they any better or any worse than Don Giovanni?
Look at Brexit – people can say what they like and get away with it, that’s exactly what’s happened in politics in the last three months. But we haven’t gone round to Nigel Farage’s house and hung, drawn and quartered him, whereas in fact perhaps in previous centuries if someone is obviously lying for the sake of their own political gain, perhaps 400 years ago we might have said “yeah, off with his head”.
I think what’s interesting about Don Giovanni is that it does talk about the abuse of status and the abuse of power.
Don Giovanni, starring Christopher Purves, is on at English National Opera 30th Sept-26th October. Find out more on the ENO website.