Welsh National Opera return to Liverpool Empire with this revival by Caroline Chaney of John Caird’s 2011 production of one of Mozart’s most complete operas, and incorporating John Napier’s original brutalist staging, inspired apparently by Rodin’s The Gates of Hell.
Don Giovanni (Aaron O’Hare – a last-minute replacement due to cast indisposition) has seduced over 2,000 women, all catalogued by servant Leporello (Joshua Bloom), and our story starts with him looking to add another name with his attempted rape of Donna Anna (Linda Richardson) that results in him killing her father, the Commendatore (James Platt), and which her fiancé Don Ottavio (Trystan Llŷr Griffiths) swears to revenge.
Donna Elvira (Meeta Raval), an earlier conquest who believes Giovanni to be her husband, has come in search of him, although he is now trying to seduce peasant girl Zerlina (Harriet Eyley) on her wedding day to Masetto (James Atkinson) and later attempts to rape her at his party.
The next day, Giovanni forces Leporello to swap clothes so that he can try his luck with Elvira’s maid in disguise but later in the graveyard he is confronted by the demons from his past: will he seek redemption and change his ways or is he doomed to burn in hell?
The challenge of this opera is that we are cleverly lulled by the music, lyric and performance into liking the rake at its centre in spite of his behaviour, and in contrast feeling somewhat less sympathetic to those he wrongs throughout to the extent that we feel for him at the end. How could this ever be? I would suggest a glance at the current Prime Minister might just reinforce how believable this is.
Conductor Tobias Ringborg provided an equal mix of flair, flourish and frenzy which saw a lively performance from the orchestra combining with composed performances from all the cast with Eyley, Raval, and Richardson edging it with their respective arias. The madrigal at the close was a delight and caught the all-round mood of this opera perfectly.
O’Hare seized his moment and performed well, capturing the balance between comic and downright nastiness although his voice could have been stronger. Joshua Bloom excelled with his lively take on Leporello, evoking our sympathy for the poor way in which he is treated although with a nod and a wink to the audience he is happy to emulate his master.
Platt provided an imposing presence for the Commendatore, alive and dead, although his voice tailed off somewhat with the latter. Raval delightfully showed both sides of Donna Elvira, sharp in the first half and more reflective and hopeful in the second, whilst Richardson’s assured strong delivery contrasted well with Griffiths’ portrayal of the bore that is Ottavio, although I would have liked a bit more punch to the voice.
Atkinson serves up the perfect meathead that is Masetto but one who can show his emotions when Eyley’s perfectly coy Zerlina, all looks and charm, wraps him round her little finger but is suitably starstruck in the presence of Giovanni. Her overall performance was the standout for me from a mostly youthful cast that perhaps just lacked that natural chemistry to take this production up another notch. That said, time is on their side, and it will be good to see their development in future productions.
Don Giovanni is one of three touring productions from Welsh National Opera, further details at https://wno.org.uk/
Liverpool Empire Theatre dates from 1925 and has the largest two-tier auditorium in Britain which can seat 2,350 people. Further details on upcoming productions can be found at https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/liverpool-empire/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 5th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★