|George von Bergen, Matthew Stiff - Mozart Don Giovanni - photo Richard Hubert Smith|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 13 2016
Enchanting and vividly characterised production of Mozart's perennial classic
|Ania Jeruc - Mozart Don Giovanni - photo Richard Hubert Smith|
George von Bergen was the Don, with Susanna Fairbairn stepping up from covering Donna Anna to sing the role (she was scheduled to appear in the production in May and sings in the ensemble). Matthew Stiff was Leporello, Robyn Lyn Evans was Don Ottavio, Ania Jeruc was Donna Elvira, Piotr Lempa was Il Commendatore, Bradley Travis was Masetto and Lucy Hall was Zerlina. Michael Rosewell conducted. The opera was performed in the Prague version (so no 'Dalla dua pace' and no 'Mi tradi'), and sung in Jeremy Sams' English translation.
|George von Bergen, Bradley Travis, Matthew Stiff - Mozart Don Giovanni |
photo Richard Hubert Smith
And it helped that Wood had drawn out superbly vivacious and intelligently engrossing performances from his young cast. Again with had young singers playing young people, and this really worked. in writing Don Giovanni Mozart was interested in taking the type of complex opera buffa that he and Lorenzo da Ponte had created in Le nozze di Figaro and introducing opera seria characters. The production was notable for the way it respected this. Jeremy Sams' English translation was very funny (and full of filthy double entendres) but the production flowed seamlessly between comedy and tragedy, creating a real sense of Mozart and Da Ponte's 'Dramma giocoso'
This started from the first notes in the overture, where Michael Rosewell drew playing of enormous grandeur, to be followed by stylish scurrying in complete contrast. Throughout, the orchestra impressed with the sense of style in the music, and a combination of vigour and elan.
|Lucy Hall and ensemble - Mozart Don Giovanni - photo Richard Hubert Smith|
Matthew Stiff is a singer whom I have encountered many time over the last few years (I think my first review of him was as Kecal in British Youth Opera's production of The Bartered Bride), often providing strong support in roles such as the heroine's father. It was a surprise and delight to find him as Leporello, in a very funny and very finely sung incarnation. Stiff is a big bloke and he used his body for really comic effect in Lloyd Wood's physical production. Yet, moments like the catalogue aria were finely sung and still full of comic timing, as were all the wonderful asides the character gets. He and George von Bergen created a real double act, almost comic and straight man, which was the real engine of the production in ways that others sometimes miss.
Susanna Fairbairn is a member of English Touring Opera's ensemble for this tour and I was impressed by her trenchant Bice in Thursday's Pia de'Tolomei. She was due to sing Donna Anna on 25 May, so this assumption of the role came two months early. She has a big, bright voice, a classic Donna Anna voice, which rose over the orchestra admirably yet was able to be tender and touching. This was an intense, very serious portrayal and a notable assumption. I do hope to encounter Susanna Fairbairn's Donna Anna again soon.
Even without 'Mi tradi', the role of Donna Elvira is a substantial one and takes the singer from Donna Elvira's 'demented' ravings to music of real poignancy. Ania Jeruc has a rich, vibrant voice which brought out the serious tones of the role. There was a sense that her rich vibrato occluded some of the details in the music, but overall this was a moving performance. She made you really care for Donna Elvira. Dressed in a stylish, highly cutting-edge black and white Secessionist style frock, she also cut a highly dramatic figure.
|Ania Jeruc, Robyn Lyn Evans, Camilla Roberts - Mozart Don Giovanni|
photo Richard Hubert Smith
Whilst Lloyd Wood's production might have had an unusual setting, Wood clearly paid attention both to the libretto and to the music so that the narrative followed both admirably and there were no awkward pensées. This would be an ideal production to encounter the opera for the first time, as well as being a performance that old-timers could enjoy too. It was very much an ensemble performance, with each of the soloists fitting into a larger, vividly conveyed whole. Sung in Jeremy Sams' lively translation, the diction was so good we hardly needed the surtitles.
Michael Rosewell was a firm yet friendly hand in the pit, ensuring that the performance went with elan but also with a certain sense of style which made the music such a joy. The orchestra responded with a really fine performance.
I have to confess that for me, Don Giovanni can sometimes pall in performance, feeling like a series of fine arias strung together with necessary recitative. Here everybody worked together in a performance which combined vigour and engaging vividness. Audiences on ETO's tour are in for a treat.
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Teeming with life: Rimsky-Korsakov's May Night - Opera review
- The transition from dark to light: Director Olivia Fuchs on Mascagni's Iris - interview
- Rare Donizetti brought to vibrant life: Pia de'Tolomei from English Touring opera - Opera review
- Joyful: Handel trio sonatas from the Brook Street Band - Cd review
- Slow burn Brahms: Clare Rutter, Stephen Gadd, City of London Choir in Brahms Requiem - Concert review
- Game of thrones: Handel Ariodante at London Handel Festival - Opera review
- Schnabel is the star: Cello music from Austria-Hungary - CD review
- Making a strong case for a neglected work: Louis Spohr's Die letzten Dinge - concert review
- Not a shooting star, but a well rooted planet: My interview with Ilona Domnich
- Highly personal Alice Coote, Christian Blackshaw in Schumann's Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben on Wigmore Hall Live - CD review
- Entrancing: Duets by Schumann, Mendelssohn, Peter Cornelius from Lucy Crowe & William Berger - CD review
- Musical values: Handel's Orlando with Iestyn Davies - opera review