If you don’t know how Don Giovanni ends, there are lots of hints throughout this revived staging from 2011. The set is basically a massive mausoleum, the walls of which are carved with agonised figures writhing out of the stonework. As the Commendatore dies, he pulls away a sheet to reveal the funereal statue of himself. Periodically, and for no apparent reason, hooded stone figures invade the acting space to brood menacingly over the proceedings. This is a heavy and dark design, laden with momento mori.
In the face of all this grim, dark, monumental masonry and ponderous foreshadowing of death, the cast of this show is very much alive and working hard to create a rich, warm, fluid and very human reading of the opera. All the actors go far beyond the architypes so often presented and dig deep to give us fleshed-out, emotionally true characters; precisely the kind of daring, raw musico psychodrama Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte had envisaged. The acting from every member of the cast was superlative. Hats off to Director, Caroline Chaney, working as she was with a rather tired-looking set.
Sarah Tynan’s Donna Anna can’t quite hide her humiliation behind her hauteur, and is so convincingly highly-strung she seems about to shatter. Donna Anna, played by Marina Monzo, and Don Ottavio, played by Trystan Llyr Griffiths – the most heroic voice I’ve ever heard in this role – valiantly fight to keep their love alive in the face of Donna Anna’s overwhelming grief and trauma, and his painful awareness that he needs to be more than he is for her.
James Atkinson as Masetto and Harriet Eyley as Zerlina share a delicate staging of her second aria, Vedrai Carino, which speaks beautifully of the healthy, healing sexuality they have together in stark contrast to the toxic sexuality dominating the rest of the opera.
Simon Bailey makes the most of the gift of a role that is Leporello. This is a superb and totally engaging characterization. As the titular Don Giovanni, Andrai Kymach is all surface charm with a seductively velvet tone, but then reveals menacing flashes of violent misogyny that are genuinely disturbing, and the supertitles of Da Ponte’s libretto do not shy away from using the word rape to describe the Don’s actions: this is a very bad man.
The singing is of such a uniformly high quality, and the cast so tight an ensemble – particularly in the two finales – that is seems churlish to single out any singer for special praise, however, Marina Monzo’s Non mi dir bell’idol mio is quite magnificent, and Simon Bailey and Trystan Llyr Griffiths were the among the best Leporello and Don Ottavio we have heard in forty years of opera-going.
There is some gorgeous, highly detailed work going on in the pit under the expert baton of conductor, Frederick Brown, and the orchestra literally raises hell after the appearance of the statue of the Commendatore. Indeed, Frederick Brown is an extraordinary young conductor. He is totally inside the very fabric of Mozart’s music, and of the extraordinary human drama unfolding on the stage. As well as conducting his band with superb precision, his eyes are simultaneously fixed on those of his singers, and he knows and mouths the Italian words of every phrase they utter. Maestro Brown was exactly like this a year-or-so ago, when he gave a similarly insightful, immersive reading of Rossini’s Barber of Seville at Birmingham Hippodrome. This really is someone to watch.
Don Giovanni – Andrai Kymach
Leporello – Simon Bailey
Commendatore – James Platt
Donna Anna – Marina Monzo
Don Ottavio – Trystan Llyr Griffiths
Donna Elivra – Sarah Tynan
Masetto – James Atkinson
Zerlina – Harriet Eyley
Conductor – Frederick Brown
Original Director – John Caird
Director – Caroline Chaney
Original Designer & Costume Designer – John Napier
Costume Designer – Yoon Bae
Lighting Designer – David Hersey
Choreographer – Kate Flatt
Fight Director – Kevin McCurdy
Chorus Master – David Doidge
The Chorus & Orchestra of Welsh National Opera