John Caird’s 2011 production set in stylish, flexible, imposing Rodin-inspired designs by John Napier presents Don Giovanni as the Dramma giocoso of Mozart’s designation. Despite the darkness of the atmosphere, this is a presentation of light and shade and much humour, and a refreshing break from some of the recent ‘concept’ productions seen of late.
James Southall’s conducting is a major contributory factor – his tempos are on the speedier side, and with fantastically responsive playing from the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera allied to some engaging continuo playing there is a great spontaneity and nuance. The dramatic scenes, such as the Commendatore’s final appearance to exact retribution, have weight but are not over-accentuated.
From a vocal perspective there are many other felicities, not least the Donna Elvira of Elizabeth Watts and the Leporello of David Stout. The former sings with panache, every word audible and inflected with meaning. Watts’s voice is limpid and beautiful throughout its range and Donna Elvira is a tricky role. Watts’s seriously deadpan interpretation presents Elvira as hopelessly and obsessively in thrall to Don Giovanni’s charms despite his appalling past treatment of her, and seemingly attempting to help him reform only to discover worse attributes. There are laugh-out-loud responses to this Elvira’s reactions to seeing Leporello’s catalogue and ‘Mi tradi’ brings her portrayal to an impressive pinnacle.
Stout’s Leporello is in the same class: communicative, consistent and compelling. His character is the one who should really develop a rapport with the audience and he certainly does so. In some respects this unbalances the master-servant relationship.
Gavan Ring is a huge talent. However, his relative inexperience and lack of heft and body to his light-sounding baritone means he pales a bit to Leporello, and as if in knowing compensation he sounds a bit blustery and pushed. Of the other principals Benjamin Hulett is a honeyed yet more assertive Don Ottavio than is often the case. He gets both his arias, sensitively sung. Donna Anna was Meeta Raval, singing the role for this performance only, with numerous strong points – especially ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ where she let fly, bringing intensity to the words with pleasingly dramatically dark tone. Katie Bray and Gareth Brynmor John provide an attractively engaged Zerlina and Masetto and Miklós Sebestyén’s generous bass sounds well and weighty as the Commendatore.
This is a Don Giovanni as Mozart and Da Ponte intended, and would recognise and enjoy.