Sydney, Opera House:”Don Giovanni”

Sydney. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Opera in 2 acts, libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart   
Sung in Italian with surtitles
Characters in order of appearance:
Don Giovanni’s servant  SHANE LOWRENCEV
Don Giovanni,a licentious young nobleman TEDDY TAHU RHODES
Donna Anna, betrothed to Don Ottavio ELVIRA FATYKHOVA
The Commendatore,Donna Anna’s father  JUD ARTHUR
Don Ottavio, fiance of Donna Anna JOHN LONGMUIR
Donna Elvira, a lady of Burgos, abandoned by Don Giovanni NICOLE CARR
Zerlina, a peasant girl TARYN FIEBIG
Masetto, a peasant,betrothed to Zerlina RICHARD ANDERSON
Actors :Dorothea Csutkai, Todd Goddard, Roslyn Howell, Kristina McNamara, Ben Marett, Ela Markstein, Caroline Mooney, John Murray, Rory Nagle-Runciman, Jean Paul Jr, Adam Porter, Natasha Usmar
Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra
Opera Australia Chorus
Conductor Jonathan Darlington
Chorus master Anthony Huntc
Director   Sir David McVicar
Designer Robert Jones
Lighting designer David Finn
Choreographer   Andrew George    
Sydney. 25th July, 2014.

A splendid production of Don Giovanni by Opera Australia opened at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House on Friday 25th July. It marks the start of a three -year collaboration between Opera Australia and the acclaimed director Sir David McVicar to stage new productions of Mozart’s three operas written with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Judging by the first, it will be a hat trick.
A soft black curtain sweeps back to expose a set, by Robert Jones, worthy of a Piranesi engraving. A monumental palace, dungeonesque, dark and decaying with crumbling masonry. The central panel of the ceiling is lowered, becoming a grand, central staircase, down which Donna Anna, Don Giovanni, the Commendatore and servants will make their first dramatic entry. An impressive opening. The monumentality continues with swiftly sliding walls of massive blocks, wide open, uncluttered spaces for the hall. Feeble light filters from a night sky backdrop or centralized window above the stairs. Downstage is in darkness. In this nocturnal atmosphere, Jones creates a rational but indeterminate space suitable for conveying universal ideas and allowing Don Giovanni to indulge his proclivities, in the proverbial, Byronic, romantic waywardness of his life. The aesthetics of awesome and terrible pleasures. Jones embraces the vast scale with simple architectural elements. The costumes are conceptually traditional but with a timeless simplicity. The rich fabrics of the three masked guests at the banquet, are enough to make them stand out as a cut above amongst the pervasive all black with only the bride Zerlina is in white.
This production is a fascinating balance between all the various elements of the work without ever sacrificing its innate intensity and dynamism. A skilled equilibrium between the classical and Romantic ingredients of the opera. It evokes the Enlightenment in its grandeur and noble simplicity, fusing it with the Romantic expression of the full range of human passions and thoughts. The result is a magnificent amalgam of elegance, vigour, power, drama, and humour which inveigles the spectator by its persuasive realism and unaffectedness. McVicar draws out dramatically compelling and gripping performances from the entire cast; from the soloists to the chorus and actors. Reactions are as carefully well-defined as actions. The staging requires great physical engagement from all characters, and they delivered it unsparingly. Every glance, every movement was calculated to underline and enhance with significance even the slightest allusion present in the text or music. The individual identities of the characters were established and developed coherently and convincingly and the dramatic situations staged perfectly to give them an immediacy of action and clarity of intent. The only moment which seemed rather over-the-top, was Don Giovanni’s personal Hell, as he was pulled into Hell by his former mistresses and their aborted babies!
Teddy Tahu Rhodes cut a striking figure as a swaggering, insolent and unrepentant Don, although it’s a pity that his strong, vibrant and rich bass baritone isn’t coupled with a clear enunciation. This, in the long-run, led to an overall lovely sound devoid of contrast and colour. Shane Lowrencev as Leporello, on the other hand, excelled in this respect, giving maximum relief to his buffo role, which relies so heavily on diction to get his sarcastic asides and humorous comments across. With a perfectly calibrated performance as the mistreated and long-suffering servant, he was a galvanizing force and all too human presence in the production. His catalogue aria was deliciously both matter of fact and poised, acting as a perfect foil to Nicole Carr’s Donna Elvira’s hand-wringing despair. Nicole Carr as the wronged but unwavering Donna Elvira always managed to arouse our sympathy and not, as often happens our sniggering. Dramatically convincing, she bore the brunt of much arm-twisting and man-handling(as did Donna Anna and Zerlina) always bringing an arresting authority to her appearances. Vocally solid, her florid coloratura passages well reflected her rage and pathos. Surprisingly her taxing last aria ‘Mi tradì’ was taken particularly slowly and punctuated by many breaths in the elaborate coloratura. It seems that Carr had a bad fall during rehearsals and was singing with a broken wrist and possibly fractured ribs, which makes her performance all the more laudatory although impossible to judge by ordinary standards.
Beautifully matched in the ensemble singing, the weight of the two sopranos, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, were too similar to offer any real contrast. Elvira Fatykhova‘s bright and easy top register and rippling agility were not complemented in the more dramatic moments with the necessary weight and power. Vocally and dramatically, the roles of Zerlina, sung by Taryn Fiebig, and Masetto, sung by Richard Anderson, provided an interpretation of considerable depth. No mere stock country bumpkins, they endowed their roles with a wealth of emotions and contrasting behavioural patterns highlighted by the equal attention to diction, timbre and accent in the sung word. John Longmuir‘s Don Ottavio was also no wimp. His full, round tenor, his even range and his smooth sustained phrasing conferred a noble and passionate temperament to his assertive dramatic portrayal. Jud Arthur‘s compact and focussed bass gave a authoritative and alarmed characterization of the Commendatore in the first act and a suitably lugubrious one in the second. The chorus and actors were perfectly choreographed by George Andrews. Their every appearance exuded spontaneity and credibility, whether taking part in progressive drunkenness, bawdy licentiousness, good-natured country-folk enjoyment or pall-bearing. The chorus was musically precise, and always perfectly aligned with the conductor, Jonathan Darlington. The ensemble singing was transparent, each individual line balanced, stable and clean. The orchestra gave a fine performance, buoyant and dramatic in turn with particular empathy demonstrated in the accompaniments. However, in general, the sound level in the orchestra seemed to be held artificially low, depriving it of contrasting levels. Excellent solo playing both of the mandolin in the serenata and in the on-stage off-beat violin/cello and violin/double-bass combinations in their competing dance rhythms in the finale of the second act. Pity that the other scored on-stage playing is done in the pit. Photo credit Lisa Tomasetti.