This revival of Welsh National Opera ’ s 2011 production of Don Giovanni is a winner. It allows the music and words to speak for themselves, without interference from over-clever ideas by a director.
Mozart’s work is surely more than enough. In the excellent WNO programme booklet we find that the composer Charles Gounod referred to it as “a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection”, and that Flaubert included it in a list of “the three finest things God ever made”.
As the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote in 1843, “Don Juan constantly hovers between being an idea, that is to say, energy, life — and being an individual.” He argues that Don Giovanni represent s the primal energy of life, realisable only though music. E.T.A.Hoffmann in his 1819 novella Don Juan saw the Don as the demonic personification of an ever-searching spirit looking for the Highest, yet seduced into a Fall of Biblical proportions.
As he sees it, the “conflict of Heavenly and Demonic forces, like the hard fought victory of the concept of life beyond, produces the idea of the earthly”. This reminds me of the ancient pagan idea that the cosmic juncture where the sky meets a flat earth is the abode of gods, both good and bad. In more modern terms, the Don represents our ego asserting itself in its most elemental and selfish fashion.
The Welsh National Opera provides two casts, and the one I saw in Cardiff gave an outstanding performance, with Duncan Rock as a commanding and debonair Don, and Joshua Bloom devilishly good as his servant and partner in crime, Leporello. The singing was all at the highest level, ladies included, with Meeta Raval a beautifully sung Donna Elvira, the woman who can ’ t get over him, and Linda Richardson notable as a strikingly outraged Donna Anna, the woman he forcibly seduced.
Don Ottavio as her betrothed was nobly portrayed by Kenneth Tarver, who showed extraordinary breath control, and the engaged servant couple Masetto and Zerlina were very well sung by Gareth Brynmor John and Harriet Eyley.
This production by John Caird, directed by Caroline Chaney, with excellent costumes by John Napier, gives just the right atmosphere, helped by David Hersey ’ s lighting. I loved the hint of iron statues in the costumes for the actors, who lend an air of menace to the netherworld of the Commendatore (boldly sung by James Platt).
I do not recall a better staging of this perfect opera, or indeed a more enjoyable cast of singers meshing well together under the baton of Tobias Ringborg.
(After Cardiff, performances continue at other venues in March, April and May)
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