Theatre in Wales

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Mozart Goes West

Don Giovanni

Mid Wales Opera , Theatr Hafren Newtown , September-08-12
Don Giovanni by Mid Wales Opera Garsington Opera did “Don Giovanni” this spring. For its production the set comprised a multi-level assembly of rooms. Its lack of clear suggestion, as to whether the characters might be inhabiting a block of flats or a hotel even, was not to critical liking. Bridget Kimak’s design for Mid Wales Opera’s autumn tour also has a number of rooms but in her case they are quite specific. Graffiti-spattered blinds front a tripartite set which, on being drawn back, reveal variously a bar, a café, a chapel, a mortuary.

Mid Wales Opera always delivers a fresh interpretation. Flickering neon signs place the action in a gaudy commercial world. Designer dresses in a shop window are consumer dreams. The symbol of Christianity, the crucifix, becomes an on-off artefact in harsh neon. “Sin will find you” reads a chapel sign tellingly.

Don Giovanni’s conduct is conventionally characterised as aristocratic venality. In Njabulo Madlala’s playing the figure is more interesting. Philandering may now be dignified by pathologisation, but it plays out in an area between evasion, compulsion, habit and ego. This is where the production intriguingly places him and Madlala at moments even conveys a sense of playful innocence.

“Don Giovanni” contains some of the most luscious singing for soprano in the canon. Catrin Aur is a passionate Donna Anna in her calls for revenge for her father’s murder. Anna Patalong’s first act Zerlina is a flounce of frilly wedding dress and cowboy boots. She is less a maid from Fragonard than a strongly sung, zesty free spirit. In the second act she is in striped micro-dress and straddles William Robert Allenby’s Masetto.

The descent to hell is one of opera’s great scenes and Keel Watson is a powerful vengeful Commendatore, presented as a terrifying Baron Samedi. It is a great encounter but a reminder that the 2012 production lets itself down with visual inconsistency. The Commendatore’s presence on a trolley bed necessitates some fiddly business in unlocking the wheels. At one level the detail of Amaretto and Chivas in a US bar is accurate. But while Masetto looks as he if belongs to a Western state, other visual clues nudge the action further south.

Wyn Pencarreg gives a fine twist of mordancy to Leporello’s relationship with his master. In physique and bearing he is near as lordly as Don Giovanni himself. But the lack of a firmly focused location gives to Don Giovanni himself a lack of definition as to his power. When Masetto is separated from his imminent bride-to-be it has to effected with encouragement from a flick-knife in Leporello's hands.

However, the character needs to be rooted in some form of position of power. If not, he runs the danger of becoming plain Joe Varney. The 2011 production benefited from a directorial vision of sweeping completeness. This “Don Giovanni” would have benefited by being rooted full-bloodedly in the kind of New Orleans that was devised for films like Alan Parker’s “Angel Heart”, among several. The inconsistency extends to Donna Ana's dress, which is one of a remarkable ungainliness.

There is plenty to relish in “Don Giovanni”. As usual the opening Newtown weekend brought in a loyal audience. The company plays ten venues in Wales, travels north to Huddersfield and Buxton, south to Margate and the Isle of Wight. It is to be recommended. If it is not quite twenty-four carat that is in part due to memory of the peaks that the company has achieved in the past.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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