Mozart described this opera as a ‘playful drama’. David McVicar’s epic production, stylishly realised by Matthew Barclay, incorporates moments of comedy, high drama, even playfulness, but it’s the inevitable sense of tragedy, in its sweeping expose of the profligate adventures of its seventeenth century Harvey Weinstein, that dominates the evening.
The dark, decaying setting by Robert Jones, with its tantalising perspectives, dominated by a huge staircase, and huge, movable masonry walls, with piles of detritus containing rotting skulls, visible on either side, compliments that feeling. From time to time the staircase rises to become a ceiling, tables rise out of, or sink into, the floor, adding to the feeling of unease, until finally, hideous creatures emerge from the depths to deliver Don Giovanni his come-uppance.
Jones has also used a subdued palette for his attractive costumes. For the wedding banquet, most are in sombre shades of grey, replaced for a later orgy by lavish black costumes richly embroidered in silver. Particularly striking is the extraordinarily low level of David Finn lighting design, which, far from being oppressive, achieves an unusual authenticity for the many night-time scenes.
Heading a superb cast of singers, making his role debut, as well as his Opera Australia debut, as the, debauched, pleasure-seeking libertine, Don Giovanni, convinced that to be constant to one woman is to be unkind to the others, charismatic Italian baritone, Luca Micheletti, quickly won the audience, with his strong, confident singing and nuanced acting. However, it was his tender rendition of Oh, Come to the Window that got them cheering.
Also making her Opera Australia debut in the role of the grieving Donna Anna, determined to avenge the death of her father, murdered by Don Giovanni while escaping from his unsuccessful attempt to seduce her, returning Australian soprano, Eleanor Lyons, also impressed with her impeccably judged performance.
Shane Lowrencev not only sang superbly, but captured every laugh, as Don Giovanni’s fall-guy, Leporello, while Jane Ede gave an arresting performance as the abandoned Donna Elvira, desperately trying to rekindle her three-day fling with Don Giovanni. She was given excellent support by Juan de Dios Mateos, as her protector, Don Ottavio, who impressed with his striking, clarion clear tenor voice,
Anna Dowsley was captivating as the young bride, Zerlina, providing a highlight with her singing of You are jealous. You are Cruel as she tried to persuade her young husband, Masetto, (Richard Anderson) to take her back after she had fended off the unwanted attentions of Don Giovanni, while the haunting bass voice and commanding presence of Gennadi Dubinsky, as the Commendatore, sent shivers up the spine.
Rounding out a night of firsts, internationally renowned Chinese conductor, Xu Zhong made an impressive Opera Australia debut with his command of the excellent Opera Australia orchestra and chorus.
At three-and-a-half hours, including one interval, this production of one of Mozart’s finest creations, never seems to drag. The potent combination of complex libretto, coupled with the heady mix of superlative music, glorious singing, striking visuals and thrilling performances, provides as satisfying and memorable night of opera as one could possibly wish.
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point
Performance: Friday 24 January 2020 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 27 February 2020
Information and Bookings: www.opera.org.au
Image: The cast in Opera Australia’s production of Don Giovanni – photo by Keith Saunders
Review: Bill Stephens OAM