Engulfing bleakness, Don Giovanni, Welsh National Opera

February 28, 2022 by

The opener to the WNO’s much awaited Spring season is a very philological take on Mozart’s classic, the solemn, almost brutalist nature of its stage design and the sombre style of its costumes almost an ominous hint at the fact that this is a tale offering no redemption. Both the design and the directions have decided to stay very close to the letter of the text, which is in its own way a bold choice, especially when we consider that the tale of Don Giovanni is by its own nature an inevitably controversial one – even more so, perhaps, in a time like the current one, where so much attention has been brought to the delicate subject of sexual misdemeanour. It is to the credit of this production, therefore, that it does not attempt to sweeten up its subject matter nor to water it down, letting the discomfort some scenes inspire in the audience speak for itself. In this its direct style proves a successful bet; the almost drab simplicity of the set, all grey stone and pockets of darkness, also serves both as silent commentary on the ultimate squalor of the matter (Don Giovanni, one might note, is a seducer more out of compulsion than out of actual passion; he seems, indeed, to take little delight from his conquests, more concerned with the next one coming than with the enjoyment of any relationship he’s forging) and as prefiguration of its ending (so much of this set is made of stone; statues, or actors dressed as statues, are everywhere; one never knows what is human and what is stone figure, and this creates a highly effective suspense, especially for those who know the endgame here).



Duncan Rock and Harriet Eyley

Baritone Duncan Rock imbues his Don Giovanni with exactly the kind of sleazy charm that is implied by the text, striding across stage and not shying away from loading both his gestures and his voice with an emphasis that borders on comedic but aptly lands squarely in the field of disturbing. Joshua Bloom’s lively take on Leporello still steals the scene from him in those moments when he’s clearly supposed to, offering both a comedic relief and an unexpected focus for empathy (the relationship between Don Giovanni and Leporello is after all an abusive one in its own right, and Bloom is very good at conveying the character’s inner tension between wanting to escape it and feeling compelled to remain in his master’s shade). James Platt offers the Commendatore an appropriately imposing stage presence, also aided by a fortunate choice of stage makeup; his subtlety of performance makes up for the fact that this role might be best suited for an even deeper bass. Meeta Raval is poignant as Donna Elvira, sharp and incisive in the first half, soulful in the second; Harriet Eyley offers a coy, elegant Zerlina, a bright contrast to James Atkinson’s hearty take on Masetto. Linda Richardson’s clean, precise delivery of Donna Anna is a very good match to Kenneth Tarver’s remarkably impressive interpretation of the deceptively challenging part that is Don Ottavio; in the many subtle tensions that characterise their relationship, those two have perhaps the best chemistry on stage.


Duncan Rock and Joshua Bloom



Duncan Rock

If a weakness must be found in this production, it is a slightly underwhelming feeling that accompanies its ending: Don Giovanni meets his fate, as it comes across here, more of doomed inevitability than of the stubborn, misplaced pride which his words are meant to convey. This might well be a deliberate choice, yet another way of highlighting the ultimate moral misery of the character, denying him any inkling of redemption, not even by means of a bankrupt titanism; the vaguely bitter taste it leaves lingering after the curtain goes down might have been sought, and it is certainly a spur for reflection on a tale that is, sadly, in its own way still very relevant. No one is saved in Don Giovanni, and no one is exempt from moral judgement; eclipsed as they may be by the protagonist’s gleeful embracing of all sorts of iniquities, none of those who share the stage with him are themselves immune from blame. In this sense, the glare of hellfire which lingers on stage well after Don Giovanni’s demise might be read as casting a suspicion of hypocrisy on the choral delivery of the moral coda, offering no escape, to the very end, from the engulfing bleakness of the story the opera has just told.


Main image:
Images Bill Cooper


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