DramaNorth East & YorkshireOperaReview

Don Giovanni – Eagle Works, Sheffield

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Writer: Lorenzo da Ponte (adapted)

Director: Ashley Pearson

Musical Director: Juliane Gallant

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Opera on Location has been operating in the Sheffield area for five years, typically presenting two operas a year. Don Giovanni, intimately staged in a long narrow acting space with the audience on two sides, offers a modern slant on the opera that brings out both elements of the dramma giocoso to great effect.

The stage contains three office desks and chairs. Leporello sits at one of them, bored, his work done, waiting for his master to stop doing whatever it is they do in private offices. Soon the Commendatore (in this all-youthful version, Donna Anna’s brother) is slain, Donna Anna and Don Ottavio appalled and the familiar action commences. The office remains the focus and Act 1 ends up with an office party, and we all know what happens there – sadly there is no photocopier on the set!

Don Giovanni is one of the operas most beset with silly productions, but this is in no way silly: maybe it blurs the class differences and the appearance of knives and guns is rather atypical of UK offices today, but it is an intelligently thought through and consistent approach to the opera. Leporello’s Catalogue aria, for instance, is totally apposite and amusingly realistic as he uses his computer to check out Don Giovanni’s conquests: 1,003 in the City, rather than in Spain.

The second half makes less sense, but it always does whatever the interpretation or in a totally traditional production. From unlikely mistaken identities to talking statues to dragging Giovanni to Hell, Act 2 needs help from powerful characterisation and intense singing to involve the audience – and it gets them from Opera on Location.

Director Ashley Pearson and Musical Director Juliane Gallant (who also supplies the indefatigable piano accompaniment) use the acting space in a way that exploits its advantages and minimises its difficulties. Gallant unifies ensembles down the whole narrow strip with great skill and Pearson deliberately plays on the tennis-match tendency in the watchers, switching attention from one end of the stage to the other. Here both are playing shots at the same time, so the audience has to choose: you miss some action, but the sense of eavesdropping on events is exhilarating.

Andrew Randall’s Don Giovanni is partly defined by his youthfulness. There are both mischief and instability in his evil. Randall plays to the audience with great skill, chatting up female front-rowers with winning insouciance, and also fields a fine lyric baritone. The relationship with Leporello is always crucial and here the recitative passages are sharply defined and natural-sounding. James Berry’s grumbling Leporello, always the put-upon servant, matches impeccable diction with adept physical comedy.

Fiona Hymns’ Donna Elvira comes on like visiting middle management, cloaking her unrequited passion in a veneer of authority. In the early scenes, Andrea Tweedale tends to oversing as the distraught Donna Anna, but she never pales by the side of Elvira (the fate of so many Donna Annas) and both women are superb in their set-piece Act 2 arias. Don Ottavio is often seen as a thankless part: you trail around like Donna Anna’s pet dog for two acts and then the director takes your great showpiece, Il Mio Tesoro, off you! Gareth Lloyd gradually builds an awkward sympathy for the character – and, if he doesn’t get a shot at Il Mio Tesoro, at least his Dalla Sua Pace is one of the evening’s highlights!

Though the opera is supposedly about male domination, half the characters are in female-dominated situations, Anna and Ottavio, but also Zerlina and Massetto. It’s a triumph for Alex Vilkaitis’ unassuming Massetto that he manages to register so strongly alongside Cally Youdell’s wonderfully feisty Zerlina, the ideal mix of innocent and minx. Thomas D. Hopkinson is an unusually young Commendatore, but as sonorous as his elders.

A final word for the updating of the translation: Pearson, Gallant and Tweedale combine most cleverly to re-work sections of the text to fit the action and setting (much use of computers and camera-phones).

Runs until 1 September 2018 | Image: contributed

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