Touring – reviewed at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
Guest reviewer: Rhys Scrivener
There have been many different versions of Don Giovanni, most of which struggle to realise the depth of Mozart’s exhilarating score and Ponte’s dark libretto exploring sexual obsession. The key question is always comedy or tragedy.
John Napier’s set design is inspirational and is based on Auguste Rodin’s bronze ‘The Gates of Hell’: always there, ever-moving and drawing our lead to his inevitable destiny.
Caroline Chaney’s revival direction of John’s Caird’s original is inspired. The light humour of seduction and dark undertones of rape are used like two different coloured paints to create a true masterpiece that has depth and clarity. The audience is taken on a journey from the initial giddy excitement of the attention of a handsome man to the realisation of the darker and lurid intents of a seducer. This opera was written over 200 years ago but still has strong resonances with modern-day audiences about men in positions of power. Maybe it has taken a female director to finally tell the story how Mozart intended.
Benjamin Hulett playing Don Ottavio delivers a fabulous aria in the middle of Act I after being told by his fiancée that she was assaulted by Don Giovanni and who we know also killed her father. This is the deepest and most tragic part of the show, but like watching a great artist paint, every brush stroke iiss perfectly applied. Hulett’s quality and subtlety of tone is incredibly moving.
The casting of David Stout as the humorous assistant Leporello is a stroke of genius. His performance is confident and the comedy is delivered with the utmost sensitivity and humility and never over-played. Even when his master Don Giovanni is facing the gates of hell, the humour doesn’t seem out of place. It is a privilege to watch this artist at work. Gavan Ring plays Don Giovanni with a strength of characterisation rarely seen in this role. His pace, drive and athleticism around the stage and his vocal range are awe-inspiring.
Donna Elvira is Don Giovanni’s longest suffering victim and Camilla Roberts gave a marvellous performance. Her soaring voice depicted a wide range of emotions and her quiet comic moments were exceptional.
Katie Bray as the peasant Zerlina captured the innocence of youth perfectly. The lightness and delicacy in her upper register provided a great contrast to the darker undertones of the surrounding Opera. She had some wonderful duets with Gareth Brynmor John as her Bridegroom.
Miklós Sebestyén’s thunderous voice as both the Commendatore and his singing stature were spine tingling. This is a voice I just want to hear more and more. Emily Birsan as his daughter Donna Anna, gave a motivated performance driving the action forward. Her stage presence and passion throughout was mesmerising.
There was unfortunately one smudge on this WNO masterpiece from the conductor James Southall. The evening was a bit like watching someone turn up with a crayon to put the finishing touches to a work of art as he never really took control of the orchestra and cast. I am not sure if this was a lack of experience or trust in his ability. However, it was the musical professionalism of the orchestra in the pit and the company on stage which truly conducted the Opera from the front leaving the out-of-place crayon marks only noticeable on a few occasions.
A solid 4 stars for Welsh National Opera’s production of Don Giovanni which finds the perfect balance between comedy and tragedy. An absolute must see.