Eleanor Wood is reviewing Opera Australia’s Sydney Winter season with guidance from professional critics, Opera Australia’s own music staff and writing professionals.
Heart-breaker, love-maker: the Don is back
Review by Eleanor Wood
Opera Australia’s new production of Don Giovanni is a dark and brooding interpretation of Mozart and Da Ponte’s operatic masterpiece. Don Giovanni begins with a thunderous D minor chord, heralding the opening of the gates of hell and the impending demise of our anti-hero. Part comedy, part morality tale, the opera is a potent mix of comic realism and grand tragedy.
Director David McVicar and designer Robert Johnson have created a production pervaded by death and darkness. Piles of skulls litter the stage; dark lighting and grand, gothic sets create an atmosphere of decaying grandeur. Shifting staircases and marble pillars descend and rise from the stage seamlessly.
Setting the opera in the mid 19th century enlightenment era, McVicar has created a world simmering with social conflict, status and sexuality. He’s drawn richly detailed and powerful performances from the cast, making this a compelling, funny and at times disturbing production.
At the centre of it is Don Giovanni, the ultimate libertine. Baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes has made a name for himself performing the role of the Don over the last twelve years. In this production there is a steely ruthlessness to Rhodes’ performance that amplifies the more disturbing elements of the character. He is more clinical sociopath than charming seducer. However vocally and physically, Rhodes is as seductive as ever. His rich baritone voice and powerful physical presence remind us why he is renowned for this role.
The rest of the all-Australian cast are generally excellent.
Shane Lowrencev is a stand-out as Leporello, the bumbling man-servant. He plays the role with bespectacled charm and endless comic inventiveness. He shines in the infamous “catalogue aria”, recalling in vivid detail the attributes of the two thousand women Don Giovanni has seduced. A morally ambivalent character, Leporello is partly envious of Don Giovanni’s history with women, and partly disgusted by it.
Rising soprano Nicole Car is wonderful as the scorned Donna Elvira. She sings with a beautiful evenness and warmth to her tone and inhabits the inner conflict of the character with a richly detailed performance. As Donna Anna, Elvira Fatykova sings with clarity and precision. Her bell-like top rings out even in difficult coloratura passages. Tenor John Longmuir makes a devoted Don Ottavio, however, vocally he sounded a little strained on this occasion.
Taryn Fiebig is a spirited Zerlina and her ‘Batti batti o bel Masetto‘ and ‘Vedrai, carino‘ are examples of impeccable line and phrasing. As her husband, Richard Anderson is a sympathetic Masetto and the pair share great chemistry. Although his appearance his brief, Jud Arthur is formidable as the Commendatore.
The Opera Australia Chorus are outstanding in this production. McVicar has drawn compelling and nuanced performances from every member of the chorus. In addition, he’s staged the opera so that a handful of actors are present in almost every scene, serving as a constant reminder that our actions are being judged. Under the baton of Jonathan Darlington, the orchestra plays with excellent pace and sensitivity.
Once described as “the perfect opera”, Opera Australia’s new production of Don Giovanni serves as a reminder of how potent opera can be when in the hands of a director as skilful as McVicar.
Decide for yourself:
Melbourne audiences can see Don Giovanni when it travels to Arts Centre Melbourne from May 11 in 2015.