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BWW Reviews: DON GIOVANNI Achieves The Sexual Tension And Displays Of Genuine Emotion Needed

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 23rd May 2015

Better known by his Spanish name, Don Juan, the fictional sexual predator is the subject of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera, Don Giovanni, with a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. This is a 'warts and all' look at the character who is not simply a seducer and libertine, but a rapist and murderer besides, with no conscience whatsoever and an ego a mile wide. A Spanish nobleman, he has a sense of entitlement and believes that he can do as he wishes.

To give the work its full title, it is Il Dissoluto Punito ossia il Don Giovanni, Dramma giocoso in due atti (The Rake punished, or Don Giovanni, a dramma giocoso in two acts). This is quite a mouthful and, fortunately, since it was composed in 1787 the shorter form has become the accepted title.

Baritone, Grant Doyle, oozes self-confidence and lust, striding boldly around the stage, making every square millimetre his own. Our first sight of him is looking like a male erotic model version of Zorro, the Knee high black boots and hot pants making the distinction between the hero and the villain. Intakes of breath could be heard all around me. Doyle brings a high level of sizzling sexuality to the role that makes it all work, proving that opera singers today can act and move, as well as sing magnificently.

Douglas McNicol is Don Giovanni's reluctant manservant, Leporello, expressing disgust at his master's behaviour and treatment of women, whilst keeping a list of all of the conquests. Leporello's constant commenting on his master's evil ways, and complaining at his own state of affairs, is the source of the comedy in this opera. Lugging around a heavy suitcase full of the Don's elaborate wardrobe and aiding and abetting him in his dastardly deeds, threatening to leave, but never quite bringing himself to do it.

They make a great pairing, finding a relationship that works in spite of the master/servant status, the familiarity of long association evident in their interactions, and the Don's resignation to the fact that finding a replacement would be just too hard. It is a partnership of convenience that allows them both to take liberties, much to the enjoyment of the audience.

The darker side is Don Giovanni's treatment of women. At the start, caught in his underwear, he has broken into the bedroom of Donna Anna, to take her by force, and is fleeing after she has screamed and alerted the household. As he is masked, neither Donna Anna nor her father, Don Pedro, Il Commendatore, recognise him as the nobleman, Don Giovanni. The Commendatore challenges Don Giovanni, and is quickly slain by the younger, quicker, and more skilled swordsman. Donna Anna and her fiancé, Don Ottavio, swear vengeance on the murderer of her father, and are determined to hunt him down.

Sharon Prero is a perfect choice for the role of Donna Anna, carrying herself regally, proudly and most of all, determinedly throughout, her mind solely focussed on avenging her father and, one the masked intruder's identity is known, preventing him from doing further harm to women.

Virgilio Marino is an equally fine choice as Don Ottavio, dedicated to Donna Anna and committed to assisting her in her desire to bring Don Giovanni to justice. he is very much the brave defender of her honour, and a serious threat of retribution as they seek out Don Giovanni who, in spite of pursuit, still continues with his desire to seduce as many women as possible.

Steven Gallop is indignant and protective as the Commendatore, but he is short lived. When he returns as the ghost/statue in the final scenes, however, he exudes great power and menace in a commanding performance that seals Don Giovanni's fate forever.

Donna Elvira appears, seeking her lover, who is the Don, of course, who, after many promises and a few days together, deserted her. Although she is filled with fury at his leaving, she is equally fuelled by desire and wants him back. He wants none of it, however, preferring to continue adding names to his list of victims rather than being tied down to one woman for the rest of his life. Teresa La Rocca is terrific as the woman torn between two strong emotions, a dilemma with which we see her struggle, trying to choose the right path.

Don Giovanni is particularly fond of innocent young virgins, and so he sets his designs upon the peasant girl, Zerlina, who is soon to marry Masetto. She is overwhelmed by a person of such high rank courting her, although very wary as well. She is caught between her love for Masetto and her desire to become Don Giovanni's wife. We, of course, know that this will not happen and that he will discard her once he has bedded her. Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio, and Masetto try to save her from Don Giovanni's clutches.

Gisele Blanchard is the simple country girl, Zerlina, and Jeremy Tatchell is her fiancé, Masetto, who is wise to the Don's intentions, but helpless to stand against a person of such rank. Blanchard creates a genuine characterisation, a shy, inexperienced young peasant girl, unaccustomed to such a force as Don Giovanni, swept off her feet, but still wary. She give a three dimensional performance in a role that I have, sadly, seen some lacklustre efforts. This is the real thing, a convincing portrayal of a terrified young woman.

Tatchell is a marvellous balance to Blanchard, recognising the danger and putting real effort into Masetto's attempts to protect her, and showing his anger and jealousy when he thinks that she has submitted to Don Giovanni in an uncontrolled display of emotion.

This is a restaging of the Opera Australia production from some years ago, originally directed by Goran Järvefelt and under the revival director, Cath Dadd. There is no shortage of pace and excitement in her direction, and a lot of attention has clearly been paid to the interrelations between the various characters, concentrating on the acting as well as the singing.

Conductor, Graham Abbott, takes the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra through a most sympathetic reading of the score, providing sensitive accompaniment to the voices, and building all of the dramatic elements. The State Opera Chorus do not have a great deal to do, but what they do, they do very well.

Stage Designer Carl Friedrich Oberle's massive set, a decaying hall of great size and solid structure, and the lighting design, by Nigel Levings, cleverly change the locations and times of day and night, and it still provides a large, open performance area. As one would expect, the costumes brought out a few pairs of opera glasses to allow audience members a closer inspection.

The original production received critical acclaim but, by comparison, this production makes that one look rather tame. This version does not hold back on any of the sex, violence, revenge, murder, or on the supernatural aspects through which Don Giovanni accepts his fate. Add Mozart's wonderful score to that, along with all of the visual aspects, and this is one for both seasoned opera buffs and new-comers alike but, with only three performances left, time is of the essence if you hope to get tickets to see this superb production, so hurry.

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From This Author - Barry Lenny