A fresh take on Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House Muscat keeps Georgina Benison interested in Mozart’s classic, and then some.
Normally, I don’t like more contemporary updates of period pieces, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni was written in 1787 Vienna.
But Opera De Lyon’s production, at The Royal Opera House Muscat on Sunday, was set in Al Capone’s Chicago of the 1920s – and it worked!
In fact, it made the drama more immediate, and I am sure it is a whole lot easier to sing without wigs, corsets and crinolines.
What made this opera exceptional is that, despite the dark themes and supernatural elements, it is a comic melodrama. It is funny, fast and furious.
Blink and you’ll miss the translated words in the subtitles. During the Catalogue Song, Leporello lists the number of conquests this Libertine has made by countries, class, age and shape. Look away now, in total – more than 2,000!
In the second act, Mozart quotes himself while the pathological villain is at dinner. Leporello sings how good the food is to a tune from Mozart’s own The Marriage of Figaro.
The music of the first act was delightfully exquisite, and Act 2, while more serious, retained huge elements of satirical humour. It’s a tribute to Mozart’s genius, which has stood the test of time across two-and-a-half centuries – in any period costume – and will continue to do so as long as people flock to opera houses.
Tom Pye’s set design of giant moveable wooden towers – suggesting, alternately, a fine town house or tenement blocks – conjured up scenes from West Side Story and was absolutely breathtaking.
The shift of scene from public square to the interior of Don Giovanni’s castle at the end of Act 1 was a stroke of genius that moved the action from a dark street to a blazing ballroom of light and splendour – falsely as it turned out – as the Don, a master of disguise, invited the poor wedding guests to a better reception in his palace, with the sole sinister intention of seducing the pretty, young bride.
The rake of the title role himself was played by the utterly convincing, handsome young Italian bass-baritone, Simone Alberghini. It is a long and demanding part, and he was constantly on stage and had to reflect a wide range of emotions and personae; from alluring romantic, serial seducer to blasphemous cynic. His rich, warm voice was compelling and, dare I say, seductive.
Giovanni is only upstaged by his comic, long-suffering servant, Leporello, and here he was hilariously portrayed by the Belgian baritone, Lionel L’Hote.
The three leading sopranos (there are only eight soloists in the opera) were equally brilliant in their virtuoso vocal techniques and in their youthful, dramatic presentations.
The versatile and understandably much sought-after Italian, Mariangela Sicilia, played a captivating Donna Anna with a voice as agile as it is confident. Her rendition of Fuggi, crudele, fuggi (Go away, cruel man) was poignant yet powerful early on in the opera.
Swedish soprano Miah Perssen as Donna Elvira has a fine collaratura voice with an ability to hold an audience spellbound. She shared some beautiful moments in duets with the Italian tenor Enea Scala (in the challenging role of Don Ottavio) in their mutual pursuit of vengeance on Don Giovanni.
French-Brazilian mezzo Yete Queiroz brought light and beauty to the role of Zerlina, a young peasant bride with a strong sense of justice and morality. She was delightful, with a perfectly placed voice, and shone opposite the 26-year-old German baritone Samuel Hasselhorn as the jealous but naive bridegroom, Masetto.
Bringing gravity to the stage and framing proceedings was the French bass-baritone Jean Teitgen as Donna Anna’s father, the ill-fated Commendatore in the first scene, and as his ghostly statue in the penultimate scene. He has a rich, steady voice, commanding and resolute, and conveyed the supernatural element of the plot that offers the arrogant rogue one last chance to repent – or face eternal damnation.
This 2009 production by the Opera de Lyon was directed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s British director-turned-opera-director, Adrian Noble, and the movement, pace and energy were superb.
Under the guidance of Italian conductor and Early Music violinist, Stefano Montanari, the Orchestra de Lyon excelled.
The two shows were packed and I am just sorry there were not three performances for all those disappointed Muscateers who failed to get a ticket.