Don Giovanni review at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff – ‘deft ensemble interplay’
It’s ironic that Welsh National Opera have revived director John Caird’s Don Giovanni at this juncture in their history: in 2011, the premiere coincided with David Pountney’s appointment as artistic director – and was widely cited as the kind of stolid, unimaginative production it was hoped he would wean WNO away from.
Fast-forward seven years and, despite much acclaimed artistic success, it seems Pountney’s visionary boldness is all-too challenging in timorous times, and his contract will regrettably not be renewed next year.
So what, if any, boldness has rubbed off onto Don Giovanni? Caird’s programme-note allusion to “recent press stories about sexual harassment in high places” hardly denotes an eager grasp of the rape and grooming issues that, together with kidnap and murder, Mozart himself seizes in what ought to be a sparkling critique of moral ambivalence and power abuse in the name of liberty.
Of course, Don Giovanni gets his comeuppance here (Gavan Ring in a promising role debut). But any questioning of gender or class injustice – whether serious or witty – goes skin deep. Indeed, Donna Elvira (Elizabeth Watts) is roundly humiliated, while Donna Anna’s trauma (Emily Birsan) and Zerlina’s near miss (Katie Bray) are deflated by Don Ottavio’s cowardly egotism (Benjamin Hulett) and Massetto’s wounded masculinity (Gareth Brynmor John).
It falls to David Stout to provide depth and cynical wit as a conflicted, would-be lothario Leporello. Together with powerful Commendatore, Miklos Sebestyén, he and the entire, committed cast and revival director Caroline Chaney deserve credit for bringing life, at least, to John Napier’s dourly inert, Rodin-inspired staging.
With some supple singing and deft ensemble interplay throughout, they are helped by conductor James Southall’s airy punchiness, and fine playing from the WNO Orchestra.