Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte
Translator: Amanda Holden
Director/Designer: Richard Studer
Conductor: Jonathan Lyness
Reviewer: Kris Hallet
One of the great joys in attending opera is the sheer opulence of it. With its large casts, generous orchestras and a set budget that would keep a Premier League footballer fed for a number of weeks, it is easy to get lost in the visual wonder of it all. Yet Opera Project, in a now regular co-production spot every October with Tobacco Factory Theatres, prove what most opera lovers already know, it is the music and the voices, not the visual accompaniment, that keep people coming back again and again to these works.
This production of Don Giovanni has to rely on the barest of stage décor to make its points. A number of elegant chandeliers hang from the roof, the orchestra seated behind an empty picture frame and a writers desk located in the corner, where an author (an interpolation from the original conceived by director/designer Richard Studer) pens his memoirs and brings these characters into living breathing life. Playing in the round stops a visual aesthetic from taking over, the music drives plot and character and forces the audience to focus on what Mozart intended.
The plot shouldn’t take much recounting. The infamous Don lies and cheats, seduces and murders his way through a swathe of Sevilla, never repenting his sins, before being dragged down to hell in the operas fiery final moments. George von Bergen is the ideal Don, sturdy of build and hefty of voice, completely convincing as lover and fighter and though it may not be the most taxing role for him vocally, the tone in his voice, a mixture of chocolate and steel rings around the small confines of the theatre. He has sung on the stages of La Scala and the Coliseum, to hear him here, in this intimate theatre, feels a real coup.
Alongside him, the three women who enter his orbit make real impressions. Anna Patalong as Donna Anna, the noblewomen most wronged by the lascivious Don combines dramatic heft, lyrical coloratura and some high top A’s. There is something behind her eyes that suggest even with her thirst for bloody vengeance, there is a lust for the man who has so wronged her, her straight-edged paramour Don Ottavio (William Wallace) doesn’t come close to matching him in the dark charisma stakes. Elin Pritchard’s Donna Elvira is very funny in her early spurned rages against the lover who has corrupted her and then very moving in her later forgiveness and acceptance of the man she loves, while Laura Ruhi Vidal Zerlina and Bradley Travis’ Massetto provide plenty of mirth as the country rustics who also get trapped in the web.
Benjamin Cahn keeps the laughs flowing as Giovanni’s cowardly manservant, Leporello, while Arwel Huw Morgan manages to keep focus the almost three-hour stage time as an ever present scribbling writer. It is left to Donald Thomson’s Commendatore to make the most lasting impression as his bass rumbles through the theatre before dragging this libertine to hell. The tempi are kept impressively swift throughout under the baton of Jonathan Lyness. It may not be a revelatory night but to hear Mozart’s music up close and personal, and with such a degree of quality like it has here,means it is more than worth a trip down to South Bristol to see it.
Runs until 22October 2016 | Image:Farrows Creative