Don Giovanni, to hell and back

Don Giovanni
Welsh National Opera
Wales Millennium Centre

By Mike Smith

The concept behind this take on the Mozart moral tale is Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, a monolithic bronze works, with human figures cast into the metal – as becomes the fate of the great seducer Don Giovanni. Figures from the vast masterpiece were also created by Rodin as individual works to become The Kiss and The Thinker.

This revival by Caroline Chaney of John Caird’s production for Welsh National Opera was first presented more than a decade ago and like all good bronzes seems to have been polished up well.

Although the great delight of this Don Giovanni is, thankfully and correctly, the cast, such is the domination of the production by the large, gloomy (and a little clunky) set that it seems to figure as much in the plot as the characters. They have to move in and out of its great doorways, climb up to see over parapets, hide behind the shifting sets and their contortions of human figures. At one stage the peasant boy Musetto finds himself shocked as he moves around naked cast bronze figures in the Don’s villa. This Don Giovanni’s sexual depravity goes way beyond his own libido, and it is therefore logical that after he descends into the fires of hell he returns to appear on stage as the latest bronze (writhing in horror) statue.

In Duncan Rock, the evening boasts a Don who looks as well as sounds the part and acts splendidly throughout with no hint of any emotion, pity, or empathy, just his own desires and conceit that he is actually doing women a favour. He is rich and mesmerising in the role, another operatic baddie with wonderful music.

Duncan Rock

His Leporello, the put-upon servant but who isn’t really that much better than the master who he would like to be, is taken with great panache by Joshua Bloom and the catalogue aria sets the tone for the evening. He sings it to Donna Elvira (who the Don has seduced, abandoned and who arrives in Seville looking for him). Meeta Raval has a strong and beautiful soprano voice and oozes stage presence with wonderful gestures and eye movements. She might be a victim but there is no messing with this lady. At times it is so dramatic it gets a slight giggle.

Duncan Rock and Joshua Bloom

Meeta Ravel and Duncan Rock

Singing the latest would-be victim, Donna Anna, Linda Richardson wrung out anguish and angst from every note in an elegant performance while tenor Trystan Llyr Griffiths as her would-be husband Don Ottavio delighted with the character’s set piece arias. (At the end of the show Donna Anna tells him he will have to wait another year for the wedding – which got quite a giggle from the audience, as did Donna Elvira’s decision to take herself off to a nunnery).

Trystan Llyr Griffiths

Masetto and Zerlina are totally charming and the most convincing characterisations as “ordinary” people who responses to the Don are most realistic as their peasant rural pre-nuptial frolics are hijacked by the aristocratic letch. Harriet Eyley as Zerlina and James Atkinson as Musetto give joyful performances, relishing their dramatic roles, the not so innocent girl, and the not so naïve country boy.

James Platt sang the Commendatore with required gravity and brought enough chill factor to the opera’s Hammer Horror conclusion.

With Swedish conductor Tobias Ringborg conducting, the audience clearly thoroughly enjoyed the evening judging from the applause and while Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte didn’t plan to raise laughter at parts of the opera, the punters found those final contributions from Donna Anna and Donna Elvira highly amusing.

James Atkinson

Main image Duncan Rock and Harriet Eyley

Images Bill Cooper

Touring until May 13 including Venue Cymru Llandudno Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28 April

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