For the third year running, Tobacco Factory Theatres has teamed up with Opera Project to co-produce another much loved opera, this time with Mozart’s comic but simultaneously dark Don Giovanni.
The Don is a privileged man who uses his position and charm to seduce, woo, rape and then discard women of any class, colour, nationality or status. In his arrogance, he believes that he’s doing them a favour – to devote himself to one woman would be unfair to all of the others, he tells his doubting servant, Leporello. After all, he has lots of love to give.
The women, though, might not agree. Take Donna Elvira, whose broken-heartedness at Don Giovanni’s desertion of her morphs into and out of anger, humiliation, confusion and even temporary forgiveness. Or Donna Anna’s quest for revenge upon him after his attempted sexual attack on her culminates in his killing of her father, Il Commendatore, a vengeance that Donna Anna’s besotted fiancé, Don Ottavio is determined to help her achieve. Meanwhile, peasant girl Zerlina is ashamed that, until she was awoken to the philandering truth about him, she had almost allowed this ‘higher-born’ man to seduce her on the very same day as her marriage to the rightly suspicious Masetto.
And through all this, Don Giovanni continues to lie and mistreat others in his unstoppable desire for sexual conquest. George von Bergen conducts this this with a glint in his eye and a look of disbelief on his face, as though he doesn’t understand what any of the fuss is about. Von Bergen is a mischievous and ultimately sinister Don, deserving his comeuppance when he is finally dragged to hell by the supernatural statue of Il Commendatore, played with otherworldly poise and menace by Donald Thomson. Much of the comedy here is provided by Benjamin Cahn as the semi-suffering Leporello, who tells it like it is (I never thought I’d hear the word ‘Tosser’ in opera), all the while appearing to be some kind of rakish Bad Boy trainee, under the tutelage of his despicable master. Cahn has a knack of looking desperately ill-at-ease and gleefully excited all at once; the scene where he shares the contents of the Don’s not-so-Little Black Book of Conquests with Donna Elvira (Elin Pritchard) is very funny, as he takes on the air of delighted fishwife/gossip monger. Like Cahn, Pritchard has one of the meatier roles and her wonderfully woeful anger possesses a tragicomic element to it.
Of the three women, Laura Ruhí Verdal’s provocative Zerlina seems to having all of the fun, making herself irresistible to an adoring (and adorable) Masetto, played by Bradley Travis – the playfulness between these two as she tries to console him after his battering by the eponymous anti-hero is a touching portrayal of the innocence of love. Likewise, Don Ottavio will do anything for his intended and William Wallace, though not dashing like the well-cast von Bergen, has maybe The Voice of the night, demanding we take heed whenever he opens his mouth. As Donna Anna, Anna Patalong also comes up with some of the vocal highlights in her absolute determination to punish the villain, her more-than-meets-the-eye hatred of him all but blinding her.
This opportunity to read the expressions of each actor could well be what is most winning about Project Opera’s production here in the round of the Tobacco Factory. Not only do we get to hear Mozart’s timeless piece that has been scaled down so well by Co-founder and Conductor, Jonathan Lyness, to listen to the musical deftness of his 11-piece orchestra, to experience Amanda Holden’s clever translation from Italian into English, all of which is sung with gusto and clarity by the cast, but we are also privy to the inner dialogue of every character, close enough to them to see into the bowels of their humanity.
I would like to give special mention to Lighting Designer, Matt Graham, and to the stage design of Director Richard Sturder, who must have liaised closely because at times it’s difficult to fathom where the work of one ends and the other begins, such as the 20 odd chandeliers that give opulence to the set, the violent red of Hell, the illuminated writing on the floor that brings to life the memoirs of Author, a mostly silent and watchful character, the older Leporello, a bonus character created by Sturder and played with a well-earned wisdom by Arwel Huw Morgan.
At almost three hours long (with interval), Opera Project’s Don Giovanni is certain to make you feel alive. Recommended.
Don Giovanni plays at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 22nd October
Image by Farrows Creative, with thanks