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Don Giovanni review at Grand Opera House, Belfast – ‘a stylish, swaggering production’

Rachel Kelly and Henk Neven in Don Giovanni at Grand Opera House, Belfast. Photo: Robert Workman
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Until the inauguration of Northern Ireland Opera in 2010, the region had experienced a sometimes fraught, inconsistent relationship with opera. Under artistic director Oliver Mears, the company has acquired a reputation for artistic daring and innovation.

In his final production before taking over as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Mears cuts loose with characteristic brio on a stylish, swaggering production of Don Giovanni. Without pausing to ponder its contested definition as tragedy or comedy, Mears has opted for both. In amongst the rampant womanising and blokeish carry-on with John Molloy’s engaging Leporello, Henk Neven’ blonde, coolly fashionable seducer is a deeply flawed character, exploitative, ruthless, misogynistic, predatory.

The mischievous topical parallel is pushed further when Leporello’s disguise is topped by a caramel coloured, bouffant wig. Aboard an ocean liner, class and gender politics slot in beside a bonanza of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll as Annemarie Woods’ beautifully lit sets segue between sun deck, restaurant, cocktail bar, cabin corridor and water-filled swimming pool, where the world’s greatest philanderer will meet a hilariously shocking end.

The performances of cast and chorus are crisp and witty but although the opera is sung in English, diction is not always as clear as one would wish. South Korean Hye-Youn Lee’s stately Donna Anna is nicely partnered by Sam Furness’s nerdy Don Ottavio.  But the evening belongs to Northern Ireland soprano Aoife Miskelly, fizzing and sparkling as a pert, sexy Zerlina, even in the slightly queasy aria where she begs to be punished violently for her dalliance with the dastardly Don.

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Verdict
Stylish, modern day production that plays a mischievous Trump card
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