Mozart purists will not care for Mid Wales Opera’s modern staging of ‘Don Giovanni,’ with its gritty translation and relocation to urban America.
But despite the liberties – Leporello swears quite a bit and in his catalogue aria substitutes US cities for European countries – Martin Lloyd-Evans’ production has plenty of life, colour (Declan Randall’s lighting creates subtle meaning) and inventiveness.
Whether or not it does full justice to the subject matter, especially its moral dimension, is debatable. For example, when the eponymous lecher is dragged into the fiery pit of hell (here depicted as a crematorium) he reappears in the final ensemble to label each character with one of the seven deadly sins – perhaps to imply they are equally culpable.
There are other odd touches. The action takes place mostly on a street decorated by various illuminated signs, with key scenes viewed as if through windows; Bridget Kimak’s designs are tantalisingly oblique (“Think For Yourself” the frontispiece graffiti indicates advisedly); and the dead Commendatore (a vocally and physically imposing Keel Watson) pops up several times to taunt his murderer.
It’s certainly a visually stimulating production. Njabulo Madlala, who sings Don Giovanni with a mixture of malice and tenderness, in his shiny suit and black shirt looks more like a swarthy gangster than Italian nobleman; Leporello (the always reliable Wyn Pencarreg) alternates between chauffeur and barman; and Anna Patalong’s beautifully sung Zerlina (in a bridal gown and pink boots, which she later swaps for the tightest of miniskirts and grapples sexily with Masetto) goes beyond the young innocent to suggest a feisty bit of stuff who really knows her way around.
In other respects there are fewer distinctions. Although the tragedy of the piece is quite powerfully delineated the comedy needs tightening; and while all the cast sang competently on the first night (apart from some occasionally unfocused high notes) there were no really outstanding moments.
The hard-working orchestra, however, achieves wonders with just ten instruments (second violinist Ian Davidson has achieved a miracle of concision) under Nicholas Cleobury’s well-paced direction. Despite the thin sound, Mozart’s score is lovingly delivered – and even the synthesised harpsichord doesn’t sound too bad.