Opera: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Lorenzo de Ponte
Original Director: John Caird
Revival Director: Caroline Chaney
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Welsh National Opera’s production of Don Giovanni was damned with faint praise when it was brought to the stage seven years ago. The main issue at that time – as has happened all too frequently with other productions of this musically brilliant opera – was that it dwelt too much on the dark side. The composer himself described Don Giovanni, with its elements of the bedroom farce, ladders up to windows et al as being a ‘drama giocoso’ – meaning jocular or playful.
So has John Caird’s 2011 production improved with this revival, in the hands of the talented Caroline Chaney? Part of WNO’s trilogy titled Rabble Rousers, it cannot be denied that, in the present atmosphere of litigation again sexual offences, that dark side has a contemporary reference which gives an added dimension. The plot centres around the goings-on of the arrogant aristocratic Don, a seducer who believes that every woman is his for the taking. A nasty piece of work if ever there was one, but there is also an undeniable element of farce as the Don is pursued by a posse of disgruntled lovers and ex-fiancées leading eventually to his receiving his just desserts.
It is here that Chaney’s lightness of touch shows the comedic side of the opera whilst keeping the balance that the opera demands but complying with what we are told was Mozart’s own intention. Making his debut both with WNO and in the title role, Irish tenor Gavin Ring has a lot on his shoulders and rises to the challenge although not always succeeding in conveying the depth of Giovanni’s depravity. Ring is to some extent up against the mastery of David Stout, whose apparently effortless stage presence makes his Leporello – the servant with an eye to the main chance – a joy to watch as well as to hear.
On the distaff side, this can also be said of Elizabeth Watts, who like Stout is returning to perform with the WNO after performing with the company in their Figaro trilogy in 2016. A splendid performance from Watts as the Don’s much put-upon wife Elvira. Watts brings out the pathos of the role, this being particularly the case in the final act with her heart-rending solo aria.
Emily Birsan’s soaring soprano is heard to advantage as Anna, who seduction followed by the murder of her father the Commendatore (Miklόs Sebestyén) is the trigger point of the opera. Birsan’s voice is exquisite and fully deserved the calls of ‘Brava ‘on the opening night. Mention must also be made of Katie Bray’s perky and delightful Zerlina.
Designer John Napier’s set remains – darkly brooding and magnificent, with the Rodin’s Gates of Hell opening and closing forbiddingly with their forecast of doom, culminating in the fiery fires of hell flaming realistically as we enter the final stages both of the Don’s eventual comeuppance and demise and the final dramatic moments of the tour de force that is this, one of the most demanding yet one of the most often performed of operas.
Reviewed on 22nd February 2018 Image: Contributed