Another not exactly new production from West Australian Opera, but one that is nonetheless very well sung and acted. Göran Jarvefelt’s version of the perennial favourite Don Giovanni was pretty sharp when it debuted in Sydney in 1991, but it’s now starting to look a bit basic and a little shabby, although it does have its moments. “Marble” walls line the sides of the steeply raked stage, with tall windows at the back; this view is visible before the lights go down, and then a scrim bearing the inscription “Don Giovanni 1787” descends. A useful device: this alerts those who care about such things that we are to hear the Prague version, rather than the revised version from Vienna 1788 i.e; it includes “Il mio tesoro” but not “Mi tradi”.
The scrim rises to reveal Leporello, in a brown eighteenth century outfit, with luggage. Don Giovanni shortly descends a ladder from a window above the stage in his underpants, but otherwise a dashing black outfit with a Lone Ranger mask. Donna Anna, in her nightie, pursues him in anger but seems about to succumb (again?) to his charms when her father enters, finished off in a convincingly brutal murder. Thus the right note of ambiguity is struck in the relationship between Donna Anna and the Don; the account of her attack she gives Don Ottavio does not quite gell with what we have seen. Overall the production moved smoothly along under the “Rehearsal Director” Matthew Barclay.
The final scene is particularly effective. Don Giovanni appears in ragged knee-length pants, dishevelled hair and dirty marks on his face; finally (like the picture of Dorian Gray) the signs of his dissolution are evident. He sups on top of what we know to be the Commendatore’s coffin. On the entrance of the statue, the pilasters around the windows crash forward on either side of the Don. As he refuses to repent he is beset by ragged demented people whipped on by red robed demons until disappearing through the floor.
The West Australian Symphony Orchestra was led by jobbing Australian conductor Brian Castles-Onion. The overture was initially a little sluggish, without quite the sense of dread usually evoked by the D minor opening. It was more sprightly in the allegro, with sharp articulation and bringing out nice details in the winds. Through the rest of the opera, Castles-Onion steered the orchestra in careful accommodation of the singers, managing nicely the various on-stage bandas (if they were actually playing on stage – it is a tribute to the actors if they weren’t, I was too far back in the stalls to be sure). The again uncredited chorus (presumably the West Australian Opera Chorus?) were excellent both in terms of their well-synchronised singing and stage movement.
Don Giovanni is a perfect vehicle for Teddy Tahu Rhodes in the title role, and the glittering black costuming is a perfect fit for him. Not only is he oozing charisma and conviction, but his voice has reached new levels of power without sacrificing precision or feeling and rings out sonorously across its wide range. Leporello is sung by reliable house bass James Clayton, generally playing the role (successfully) for laughs. He is no mean singer himself, with a good full-throated “Madamina”, with excellent phrasing. Donna Elvira’s reaction was a treat, initially sceptical and amused, becoming more agitated and finally quite distraught. She was sung by young Western Australian soprano Katya Webb, with a creamy and well-produced voice, which made one wish “Mi tradi” had been included. Nicole Car was Donna Anna, acting convincingly and singing powerfully, although with rather a heavy vibrato and somewhat shrill in the upper range. A regular of Opera Australia, tenor Henry Choo tackled the rather pathetic role of Don Ottavio with dignity and tenderness, “Il mio tesoro” being delivered smoothly and nicely phrased. Perth-based Sara Macliver was a sublime Zerlina, her pure soprano voice fitting the role well, being as fresh sounding as it ever has. “Batti, batti” was an ideal realisation of this area, tender and mischievous at once. Another Opera Australia stalwart, Jud Arthur, was authoritative and resonant as the Commendatore, making an excellent creaking statue. Luke Stoker was a reliable Masetto.
Overall this was an excellent performance, with a reliable if somewhat antique production enhanced by excellent singing, acting and playing all round.
Photographs © Jonathan Clews/ James Rogers