REVIEW: Don Giovanni (NZ Opera)

Amelia Berry mesmerises audiences. Photo by Neil Mackenzie

Striking set sizzles [by Sharu Delilkan]

Amelia Berry mesmerises audiences.  Photo by Neil Mackenzie
Amelia Berry mesmerises audiences. Photo by Neil Mackenzie

When I heard that the NZ Opera was finally staging Don Giovanni, after it had been performed at the Christchurch Arts Festival last year, I was adamant not to miss this larger than life production. And unlike some productions that promise a lot and deliver very little, this NZ Opera production not only met but also totally surpassed my expectations.

Seeing Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra very visible from the pit as I took my seat was indeed a pleasant surprise, adding to the overall experience right from the word go.

John Verryt’s set adaptation is bold, striking and above all cleverly designed to enable multiple room and locations to be created by the mere swivelling of panels across the stage. Jeremy Fern’s stylised lighting works perfectly in harmony with the dramatic set creating a layering effect, using different coloured lighting to depict the entrance of the night club and hotel. That being said I did think that the lighting in both the Angels and Demons party along with the scene where “Commendatore” is discovered could have done with a bit more variation to add to the sexy nature of the party in the former and the mystery in the latter. Likewise despite Elizabeth Whiting’s hallmark amazing variety of costuming throughout the production, I felt the element of debauchery and sensuality somewhat lacking in both the costuming and tone of the Angels and Demons party.

The visually arresting set is effective in providing the perfect platform for director Sara Brodie’s different and insightful approach to Mozart’s masterpiece Don Giovanni.

And in keeping with her reputation for getting great theatrical results from her singers, Brodie’s cast gives unprecedented theatrical performances coupled with impeccable fluidity which are incredibly convincing and effective.

Often opera can be rather daunting but the contemporary setting along with Brodie’s ability to extract flawless dramatic performances from the singers makes the storyline crystal clear and easy to follow. Her astute theatrical direction also helps create an authentic world by her special attention to human nature through the realistic elucidations on stage.

Don Giovanni is one of the greatest and most popular of all operas, centered around the hedonistic womaniser who stops at nothing to exercise his free will, and remains a very contemporary piece that questions social convention and society’s moral code.

Despite the overall exquisite acting prowess displayed on stage I must admit that I was a little disappointed with the less than sensual portrayal of the lead by Mark Stone (Don Giovanni). It appeared to be a missed opportunity for him to play with the devilish character that was literally handed to him on a silver platter to feast on with great fury and gusto.

I particularly liked the fact that a majority of the female singers were particularly strong in voice compared to the male singers, providing a great juxtaposition to the ‘feeble’ character roles they were playing alongside their macho male counterparts. Amelia Berry’s rendition of Zerlina was a particular favourite, providing some vocal surprises that thrilled the audience immensely.

And as always the APO were in perfect form making Mozart’s dramatic music sounding as beautiful as ever, under the baton of director of music Wyn Davies.

Featuring the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus
sung in Italian with English surtitles, NZ Opera’s Don Giovanni is a guaranteed fun and entertaining evening out. And if you’ve never seen an opera in your life this is definitely a good starting point – who knows, you might even get hooked!

Don Giovanni is presented by NZ Opera and plays at Aotea Centre
 until 28 September. Details see NZ Opera

SEE ALSO: review by Penny Dodd

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