The Don as a wealthy club owner with an insatiable sexual appetite and the women’s roles taken by young men?
What Matthew Bourne did for Swan Lake, the creative team behind the forthcoming The Gay Don seeks to do for Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
That team consists of Rowland Lee (score), who abridged the Tchaikovsky for Bourne, Dominic Gray (director) and translator Ranjit Bolt, who takes Da Ponte’s original and gives it a thoroughly modern make-over. The project, still very much a work-in-progress with an uncertain future, will premiere a taster at this weekend’s London Pride festival in Trafalgar Square with a revamped and reworked version of the Act I finale of Mozart’s opera.
Ranjit Bolt, who a few years ago looked as though he was cornering the market in translations of plays by Goldoni and Moliere, told me a bit about the thinking behind the event. He was given a brief to turn Da Ponte’s libretto into a gay version, set in a 1980s club and with most of the Don’s conquests as men rather than women.
“It seems the next logical step for the story,” he told me, “Don Giovanni is such an archetype and making him gay seems right for today.” So, Zerlina becomes Zac a young James Dean type, Masetto becomes Marina the vampish fiance of Zac who gets stood up, Don Ottavio is Olga the beautiful and imposing Russian immigrant who is besotted with Alan ( Donna Anna), a young man on a mission. Edward (Donna Elvira) is a closeted older gay guy demanding vengeance on Don Giovanni for his sexual exploitation of so many young men.
Bolt, unlike a lot of “translators” these days, likes to work from originals (he studied Classics at Oxford and has “pretty good” French and Italian). His takes on the classics are always far from reverent and he says that the English language lends itself well to sprucing up old texts. “Da Ponte’s rhymes are often opportunistic and don’t stick to a scheme,” he says, “I feel able to be pretty free with it then. I look for the jokes and have managed to get some good gags into this. English lends itself well to rhyming and enabling a more interesting comic quality than the originals.”
Bolt has left the musical side of things to his collaborators (he’s not even certain whether the recitatives will be set or spoken). He says hes long been an avid listener to opera, Mozart in particular, although a rare operagoer. Among recent successes was an adaptation of Beaumarchais’ play of The Marriage of Figaro, so he’s following well-trodden ground with the Don Giovanni update.
The project will be launched at 6.40pm on the main stage at Trafalgar Square on Saturday 4 July, as part of London’s annual gay festival. The next steps are still not certain. It will depend on funding but the end aim must be a full production of Rowland Lee’s musical re-working, which boasts the participation of Vince Clark, known for his participation in the musical duo Erasure, as well as Depeche Mode and Yazoo. Clark has provided a version of the act one Minuet in four beats to the bar, while retaining Mozart’s harmonic structure and form.
Behind the whole unfolding process is the website www.thegaydon.com, at which audience members will have the chance to invest or be part of the production’s life by chatting or blogging on line with members of the creative and executive teams.