Friday, 23 June 2017

A very complete Giovanni: Mozart's Don from Ashley Riches and Opera Holland Park Young Artists

OHP Young Artists with the Opera Holland Park Chorus in Opera Holland Park’s production of Don Giovanni (Young Artists Performance 2017) © Alex Brenner
OHP Young Artists with the Opera Holland Park Chorus in Opera Holland Park’s production of Don Giovanni (Young Artists Performance 2017) © Alex Brenner
Mozart Don Giovanni (Young Artists performance); Ashley Riches, Darwin Leonard Prakash, Julia Hamon, Joel Williams, Nardus Williams, Vedat Dalgiran, Eleanor Sanderson-Nash, Ricardo Panel, dir: Oliver Platt / Roxana Haines, cond: Harry Ogg; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 22 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Engaging and fully rounded performances from all concerned in the annual Young Artists performance at Opera Holland Park

Opera Holland Park - Mozart: Don Giovanni - Ashley Riches (Photo © Robert Workman)
Since it debuted in 2012, Opera Holland Park's Young Artists Scheme has gone on to create a remarkable stream of singers, directors and conductors many of whom have continued to be involved in the subsequent seasons (the 2017 Opera Holland Park season includes 14 alumni of the scheme). This year's Young Artists performance on Thursday 22 June 2017 was Oliver Platt's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, designed by Neil Irish. Ashley Riches, from the main cast, was Don Giovanni with young artists Darwin Leonard Prakash (Leporello), Julia Hamon (Donna Anna), Joel Williams (Don Ottavio), Vedat Dalgiran (Commendatore), Eleanor Sanderson-Nash (Zerlina) and Ricardo Panela (Masetto). The cast were rehearsed by Roxana Haines (associate director), and Harry Ogg (associate conductor) was in the pit.

Platt and Irish moved the setting to a 1930s liner, and whilst this does require a little suspension of disbelief it certainly helps to explain why everyone keeps popping up repeatedly. The costumes nicely delineated the different classes, though budget restrictions presumably meant that there seemed to be a remarkable amount of fraternisation between the upper classes and steerage. My main concern was that Irish's main set was a row of doors and port-holes, whilst this did create the necessary myriad comings and goings the main playing space was reduced to a rather intractable long corridor which emphasised the most problematic aspect of the Opera Holland Park stage (its sheer width), and caused a few problems with ensembles. Things improved vastly in the bigger set pieces when the centre section retreated up-stage to create a larger saloon-like playing area.

Opera Holland Park - Mozart: Don Giovanni - Julia Hamon, Joel Williams (Photo © Alex Brenner)
Julia Hamon, Joel Williams (Photo © Alex Brenner)
Irish and Platt had clearly thought about the class issues in the opera, and this was a production which did make the attempt to recreate Mozart and Da Ponte's complex class structures in modern terms. Something that many modern updatings rather neglect. Another enjoyable aspect to the production was that Platt had clearly thought about the mixture of comedy and tragedy which Mozart and Da Ponte intended. This was a very funny production, but one which made space for some real nastiness from Ashley Riches' Don Giovanni, and poised tragedy from Donna Anna (Julia Hamon). In line with most recent productions of the opera, Nardus Williams' Donna Elvira was also a tragic figure with none of the semi-seria elements which Mozart intended.

The young artists get a full rehearsal period with the associate director, Roxana Haines and the associate conductor, Harry Ogg, with the benefit of rehearsing in the same building as the main cast. They rehearsed with a stand-in Giovanni, but Ashley Riches and the young team built a superb relationship which belied the small amount of stage time they must have had together. There is just one young artists performance, and the impressive thing was how complete and well rounded the performances were. All the young singers are on a journey to their final mature destination, but these young artists showed a strong grasp of the essentials of performing Mozart.

Opera Holland Park - Mozart: Don Giovanni - Nardus Williams, Darwin Leonard Prakash (Photo © Alex Brenner)
Nardus Williams, Darwin Leonard Prakash (Photo © Alex Brenner)
Ashley Riches made a wonderfully well-rounded Don Giovanni, and I look forward to hearing how his performance develops as I am sure it is a role to which he will be returning. Riches made Giovanni the chameleon that he needs to be, rather than taking a particular view. So we got real nastiness in the killing of the Commendatore (Vedat Dalgiran), a genuine sense of comedy with Leporello (Darwin Leonard Parkash), and a mixture of seduction, lust, galanterie and sheer misogyny when dealing with the various women. Riches could turn on the charm when necessary, and both the serenade and the duet with Zerlina were beautifully seductive, whereas he was positively beastly do Donna Elvira. You didn't admire Riches' Giovanni, but be fascinated and dazzled, you were drawn despite yourself.

Darwin Leonard Prakash is a young singer from New Dehli who has only been having voice lessons since 2014, and has made a remarkable trajectory (you can read more here). Whilst his voice and technique perhaps are still developing, he has a truly remarkable stage presence. He created a sad clown out of Leporello, his eyes and moustache (what a moustache!) being profoundly expressive; Prakash has the gift of being funny whilst appearing not to do anything. The fact that he was rather shorter than Ashley Riches (who is tall) was used to great comic effect, and the two created a wonderful comic rapport (to which Riches added a nice element of subtle bullying). From this performance, I could quite easily see Prakash performing both Figaros, and would love to see him do so. The catalogue aria was beautifully done, with a nice sense of timing, and all the business in act two created a nice mix of comedy and pathos. The sight of Prakash wearing Riches' jacket and hat was priceless. He did not quite talk to the audience the way the best Leporellos do, but he understood the need for communication.

Opera Holland Park - Mozart: Don Giovanni - Eleanor Sanderson-Nash, Ricardo Panela (Photo © Alex Brenner)
Eleanor Sanderson-Nash, Ricardo Panela (Photo © Alex Brenner)
Just as impressive was Nardus Williams as Donna Elvira (D. remembers her as a very engaging usher at Opera Holland Park a couple of years ago). She has a rich creamy, elegant voice and seemed to be singing Donna Elvira fully formed. This was quite a serious account of the role, taking 'Mi tradi' as its centre. Williams sang the aria finely, but continued to wring the heart strings (and created fine phrases) during Elvira's other contributions to the recitative and ensembles, this was indeed a very complete and ultimately moving performance.

Julia Hamon made a rather poised Donna Anna, entirely serious, very intent and completely opera seria, as intended, even when wearing 1930s pyjamas. She brought off the significant feat of keeping the character strong and resisted the temptation to camp up the 1930s era. She has quite a light voice for Donna Anna, she has Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro) and Pamina (Die Zauberflote) in her repertoire. Whilst the voice did not have the heft, she sang with admirable firmness and strength of line, warmed by a lively vibrato and conductor Harry Ogg was sympathetic and you never thought she was forcing. Instead she used poise and not inconsiderable style to create a very strong effect.

Joel Williams was an impressive Don Ottavio, he is that relatively rare thing a tall, slim tenor, and he brought an interesting strength to Don Ottavio's music. He got both arias (this was quite a traditional version of the score) and sang both beautifully with a lovely lyrical sense. He did not try to do too much with them, but still conveyed that feeling of inner strength. This was a notable assumption, and I will be interested to hear where his voice takes him.

Joel Williams, Darwin, Leonard Prakash, Julia Hamon (Photo © Alex Brenner)
Joel Williams, Darwin, Leonard Prakash, Julia Hamon
(Photo © Alex Brenner)
The lower class couple, Zerlina and Masetto, were the delightful double act of Eleanor Sanderson-Nash and Ricardo Panela. Sanderson-Nash is a real soubrette, delighting in the lightness of Mozart's writing whilst bringing a strong sense of character to the role. She was tempted by Riches' Giovanni, but you sensed that she was usually in control of relationships and had Panela's Masetto wound round her finger. Panela was a lively Masetto, a bit less of a bully than some with more of a sense of bluster, he has an engaging stage presence but also a real ensemble sense too.

This was a very international cast, Julia Hamon is American, Ricardo Panela is Portuguese, Darwin Leonard Prakash is Indian and Vedat Dalgiran, who sang the Commendatore, is Turkish. Dalgiran has a rather distinctive bass voice and you felt that it had not quite grown into itself (something quite usual with young basses). He has a striking stage presence, and made the most of it both as Il Commendatore and as the returning ghost.

There was a lot for the chorus to do here, each one depicting a different character on the cruise and keeping in character for the show, with the result that we had a lively backdrop of events. This might have been distracting, and there were one or two moments which threatened but generally Platt's direction ensured that the chorus were only backdrops to the main event. But there was still plenty to admire, and to enjoy.

Opera Holland Park - Mozart: Don Giovanni - Vedat Dalgiran (Photo © Alex Brenner)
Opera Holland Park - Mozart: Don Giovanni - Vedat Dalgiran (Photo © Alex Brenner)
If I say that Harry Ogg did not get in the way of the music, that might sound a back handed compliment but in an opera like this, it is most important. Ogg did not impose himself too much, and instead allowed the music to flow. As I have said, there were one or two ensemble issues of the sort which can easily be ironed out during a run. He created a nicely dramatic account of the overture, without ever making us feel he had points to score, and throughout it was as a relaxed accompanying conductor that I appreciated him. Speeds were fast to moderate, but never excessive in either direction. In the pit (which I understand is bigger this year), the City of London Sinfonia followed Ogg's lead and gave a beautifully relaxed, accompanying performance.

Yu Su (who had been repetiteur for the cast) was the admirable keyboard continuo player, and it was impressive the way all concerned really kept the recitative moving. Constantly understandable, but with a great sense of forward motion. This was vivid drama rather than being portentous.

Platt's production was admirably without pensees, though he had clearly thought everything through. As I have said the Commendatore was a ghost (and animated corpse) rather than a statue. At the end Ashley Riches was not dragged down to hell but covered in blood by the Commendatore's grip (echoing the opposite process at the beginning) and then leapt overboard, destination unknown.

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