Entertainment & Arts

Rufus Norris takes on Don Giovanni opera

Image caption Rufus Norris was not a great opera fan before taking on this production

Award-winning theatre director Rufus Norris is making his operatic debut with a new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni for the English National Opera (ENO).

Don Giovanni was modelled on the fictional Spanish libertine Don Juan and the real-life Venetian womaniser Giacomo Casanova.

The story follows the young nobleman Don Giovanni, a serial seducer whose conduct spirals out of control until he must pay the price for his depraved lifestyle.

Norris - famous for West End productions such as Afore Night Came at the Young Vic and Festen at the Almeida and Cabaret at the Lyric - talks about his own interpretation of the classic story for ENO.

Tell us what your production of Don Giovanni is like.

It is all about feeling alive. He is somebody who makes people feel alive, he is addicted to that feeling. In his case often it is to do with sex, but not just that. We are not doing a cocaine-snorting, crack-taking, gun-toting version of it. There is only one way to go really on this night, because the craving for whatever the hit is just increases and increases.

Tony Award-winning designer Ian McNeil is joining you, what can we expect from his set designs?

Well we obviously have worked closely together on it. The opera is fluid, it throws up a lot of challenges, in a lot of ways pragmatically in terms of location. We are trying to give it a fluidity, an energy. The way that we move around the environment that Giovanni passes through. It is quite a fluid set, we haven't got big mechanics going on, it is all very actor operated. Quite bold hopefully.

Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits is making his UK opera debut conducting this production, do you have artistic differences?

Image caption Don Giovanni: Norris thinks the character is just as relevant today

We have our moments, but nothing much. I have been very lucky for a first opera experience. I think if I had been working with a hugely experienced Mozart conductor there would be such an enormous gap in knowledge. Obviously Kirill knows a great deal more about music than I do, but he is new to this company as well, it is a debut for him as it is for me. He is young, open to discussions and different ideas.

How different is it working with opera singers in comparison to singers in Cabaret, for example?

Well for the most part in Cabaret I was working with actors who sang, as opposed to musical theatre singers. I think the demands of filling up a hall like the Coliseum, with two-and-half thousand people are enormous, their voices are an instrument. In terms of whether they are up for throwing themselves around, fight each other or snog each other, there is no difference, they are up for it.

Are they happy with your working of it?

I don't know. It has been a very happy rehearsal room. I think they have been a bit bemused here and there. Hopefully I have brought a freshness to it, and there are a few things that have come to the table.

Don Giovanni was based on Don Juan and Casanova, do you think such a character is still relevant today?

Yes I do. I don't mean necessarily men who go around sleeping with people. But there is something about people who make you feel alive, without inhibition, exciting to be with. And that is very pertinent in today's society with the X Factor and all the rest of it. Everybody wants to be a star and have their five minutes.

You started a small theatre during the Thatcher era when you were faced with cuts. The arts are facing the same situation now. What was it like for you back then and what do you think of the cuts now?

Image caption The story takes its influences from the lives of Don Juan and Casanova

Well it was very tricky back then, there was no subsidy. Revenue funding all got frozen so we didn't have any income, only from box office and what we could scrounge. I guess that is the way it is going to be for any director or people starting off now. I think it will be a return to that but I think it will be much harder because the world has become much more commercial. I think it is going to be a very tough period for sure.

Before getting involved in this project you weren't an opera fan, often choosing a night at a musical instead. How do you feel about opera now?

I have probably seen more operas in the last year than I have seen musicals. Legally Blonde is a really easy example to use, as you think oh no it is going to be a load of pink nonsense, and it is a load of pink nonsense, but it is great. There are cliches about the opera clientele. I played Mozart myself on the violin, just never had the pleasure of getting really absorbed in his work.

Do you think the English National Opera is a good place to start for people who have never experienced it?

Absolutely, I think it is has a great history and ethic. They are very welcoming and have been incredibly good to me. There is nothing old or fuddy duddy about the work here. Lillian Bayliss and the whole origins of the company are so important.

Your next project is a film can you tell me about that?

Yes it is called Broken, based on the novel by Daniel Clay and adapted by Mark O'Rowe. It is a dark very full story about an 11-year-old girl. We are hopefully shooting it this time next year. But it won't feel like it is really happening until I have a bacon sandwich in my hand at 5.30 in the morning.

Rufus Norris was talking to BBC News reporter Claudia Redmond.

ENO's Don Giovanni is playing at The London Coliseum 3 December.

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