WNO seem to be settling back in just fine in their Wales Millennium Centre home, and with an autumn season already under their belt, the new year sees a flutter of revivals – including Don Giovanni.
When it comes to Mozart, I’m more inclined towards The Magic Flute or Mitridate, Re Di Ponto. Some might find Don Giovanni highly problematic by today’s standards, and John Caird’s WNO production (in this standard revival from Caroline Chaney) does not shy away from this. The story never fills its three-hour length – the second act could easily be tighter – and opera harbours better overtures, arias and duets. All of which were, nevertheless, sung here with much beauty, Cardiff usually getting globetrotting singers who grace us for a few weeks.
Whenever Don Giovanni is done, it’s usually the set that gets people talking. With both costumes and staging by John Napier and Yoon Bae, everything feels on a lavish scale. This dark, imposing stage is crammed with metallic high baroque, Rodin and a posy of Winged Victories. It’s a hectic amount of blocking, with the walls being repositioned for most of the scene changes – not always effective in the change of location. The costumes, meanwhile, bring Seville high society to life in grandiose numbers or drip in modern youth parlance.
There are fine details here that give this faithful production brownie points, but it’s just the set that clutters, lingering over the singers. Conductor Tobias Ringborg appears a new face to Cardiff, making the orchestra lose themselves in this self-indulgent opera. Also playing on the fortepiano, it’s remarkable how much this thankfully mostly forgotten instrument sound like an electric keyboard on the night. Your heart pines for a harpsichord…
The cast of singers did not disappoint. The trio of women – Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, along with Zerlina, all victims of the title antagonist – are played with much care, harmonised to a masterful degree from Marina Monzó, Sarah Tynan and Isabelle Peters. It’s satisfying to see a group of women call out an awful man, though they don’t lead to the Don’s downfall (the ending is the definition of Deus ex machina).
Along for the ride is Don Ottavio, Donna Anna’s suitor, after the villain murdered her father the Commendatore (here, a robust James Platt). Homegrown talents from Trystan Llŷr Griffiths as Ottavio are meaty, though some phrasing in the Italian maybe needs a little more work. Simon Bailey does everything he can with the role of the Don’s servant Leporello: cunning, mischief and a childish sense of greed. The Catalogue Aria could always be funnier, but it worked as it was. Masetto, newlywed to Zerlina, is another toxic male role: easily manipulated, he doesn’t think twice about abusing his spouse. Easily the most forgetful character, James Atkinson imposes a lot in the role and delivers, tall in nature and voice.
Moreover, our thoughts are with this Don Giovanni, here brought to life with subtlety and brutality by Ukrainian baritone Andrei Kymach. With a voice like black coffee, one can wonder about the dramatic roles he can approach now after his Cardiff Singer win in 2019. It’s his swagger and rock-and-roll look that really sells Andrei. After a politically-charged week, this Cardiff audience gave a rousing standing ovation, a rare sight at opera performances. You could see how moved he was; it’s the least we could do at this time of conflict.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Sun 27 Feb
Don Giovanni will also be performed at the Wales Millennium Centre on Thurs 17 Mar. Info: here
words JAMES ELLIS
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