Don Giovanni

Thu 20th – Sat 22nd February 2014

reviews

Kei Tao Katie WONG

at 23:21 on 20th Feb 2014

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The Cambridge University Opera society has again successfully and ambitiously staged Don Giovanni, which succeeds its production of The Magic Flute in Michaelmas term. It is mesmerising in all aspects. Not only is it interesting in the drama and music, the stage setting, lighting and choreograph are all very well crafted.

Sung in modern English, the opera becomes more accessible to the audience. The production did not fall into the dangerous loophole of an inclination towards a musical production due to the use of English text. Because the singers and the orchestra were so professional, a strong opera-tone is conveyed. The diction of the text is overall very clear, although occasionally in sections, often when the soloists are doubled with the orchestra, uniformity between the instrument and voice would benefit the clarity of the text.

The use of trenches and balloons in the set depicts a 1945 scene very well. In addition with the carefully chosen costumes by Hannah Everett, the set conveys the audience very well that it is set in 1945. Don Giovanni at once appears in a modern setting. The lighting design gave a magical quality to the production. In the overture, the sense of time is shown through the changing lights, which represents the chaning colour of the sky throughout the day. This also helped bringing out the different tone colours of the orchestra. The Alba orchestra plays sensitively under the direction of the Patrick Milne. The dynamics were carefully controlled, and the orchestra rarely overpowers the singers. The woodwind section especially plays lyrically when mimicking the singers.

All the soloists performed to a high standard. Leporello, played by Henry Hawkesworth immediately sets a high standard of singing and acting. The drama in his eyes is very engaging, and this lifts the indecisive and easily swayed character of Leporello immediately, particularly in the scene where Leporello is tempted by Don Giovanni’s money at the start of Act II. However despite the captivating acting of each character, there was more potential to increase the drama of the opening scene and it felt as if took a while for the opera to warm up. Not only did Michael Craddock capture the promiscuous character of Don Giovanni successfully through his singing, even his body movements, down to the detailed movement of a single stride, encapsulated the character. Janneke Dupre captured and sung out the inner conflicts of Donna Elvira in ‘Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata’. Hugo Herman-Wilson's portrayal of the Commendatore was a convincing, bold and menacing presence, particularly at Scene III of Act II. This is also channeled through his singing tone.

Overall this was a very professional production. Due to the choice of English libretto, which makes it easier to follow, it is a definite must-see for both opera lovers and first-time opera goers.

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Christy Edwall

at 09:42 on 21st Feb 2014

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Despite the violins starting off slightly flat in the restrained orchestral overture, the CUOS production of 'Don Giovanni' begins engagingly, if ambiguously, with a masked Don (Michael Craddock) following – or coercing – Donna Anna (Billie Robson) behind a closed door.

The stage across which they move is well-laid, albeit somewhat inexplicably. The opera’s promotional material highlights its setting in 1945 - pre-liberation Italy - and there are sandbags mounted around a raised stage and an elevated balcony. Three zeppelins float like paper sharks above a lamppost. But besides the stage setting and two characters sporting military uniforms, there is nothing to support the choice of setting; it appears a somewhat arbitrary hijacking of a conflicted historical period to suit stylistic ends. Since the opera is performed in English, there was no reason why it couldn’t have taken place in mid-twentieth century London with the graveyard scene set in Highgate Cemetery to furnish a similar effect.

The performance of 'Don Giovanni' in English, not the original Italian libretto, was controversial but taken in good spirit by the audience (though I overheard an Italian professor of music exhale his disappointment). What the translation lacks in accuracy, however, it more than makes up for in clarity and humour. An audience familiar with and anticipating the original experience will, I imagine, be disappointed, but an audience new to the opera will find this production engaging and amusing. Henry Hawkesworth’s Leperello, Don Giovanni’s lackey, has exquisite comic timing, and his gestures are in equal measures subtle and voluble.

One can always gauge the audience’s opinions of the performers by an honest curtain call. While high praise should by traditional rights go to the lead performer – Craddock, who played Don as fringing on the weaslely – the night was marked by two highly convincing performances. Firstly, Hugo Herman-Wilson as the Commendatore, slain early in the first act by Don Giovanni, but with the terrific comeback as the hellish statue at the opera’s climax. Herman-Wilson commands his scenes with ease, and despite having very little time on stage, performs with gravitas. The Commendatore is given the most stirring music of the opera, and Herman-Wilson carries it off in a resonant bass. Janneke Dupree plays the wronged Donna Elvira with profound expression. Her voice is one of the richest in the cast - capable of being both agile and melodious - and it's a pleasure to see her appear from the wings.

The opera’s difficulty was periodically felt in the extended breathless ornamental runs which seemed to slip away from Craddock, who flourishes best in moments of extended lyricism, and Robson, whose high soprano fluttered through the astonishing range demanded of her, occasionally ungrounded. (One suspects English is a more difficult language to sing in than Italian.)

The most magnetic occasions in the opera happen during the ensemble performances, when six voices buttress and set off the melodies of the other singers to great effect. This is one of Mozart’s great achievements, and the cast of 'Don Giovanni' pull it off with bright gusto. Despite the hiccups of individual performances, and whatever was lost in translation, it's rare that opera is performed with such immediacy and gives such robust enjoyment.

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