It was a triumph of a Don Giovanni presented by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in association with NZ Opera last night at the Auckland Town Hall. Admittedly I had doubts about semi-staging this opera and missing out on the fire and brimstone, the banquet table, the peasant costumes. But as soon as conductor Giordiano Bellincampi raised his baton, the whirlwind of Mozart’s masterpiece burst into life and the characters leapt onto the stage.
Throughout Bellincampi kept his cool and danced his band through the tempi madness...
The first star of the evening was the APO, dazzling string playing, and playing of considerable Mozartian charm. Bellincampi kept the evening whipping along without a dull moment. This is a huge play for the band as well as complex. The ballroom scene calls for two onstage ensembles to play separate dance music in synchronisation with the main orchestra without a descent into chaos that so often ensues. Throughout Bellincampi kept his cool and danced his band through the tempi madness. Having the orchestra on the performing stage brought them into full focus. And the players clearly were having a great time as the characters dashed around them. One of the best comic moments of the evening was Leporello blending into the orchestra miming being a violinist.
Šveda’s Champagne aria Fin ch’han dal vino at the end of Act One was testosterone-driven and edgy, perhaps because the tempi was so fast it almost tipped over the cliff with hysteria.
Clearly, there must be one very supersonic star of the evening, the Don himself. Richard Šveda’s Don Giovanni delivered long phrases with glossy darkness and gravitas. Having performed the role recently at the National Theatre of Prague, Šveda embodied the Signor with great command. The piece hangs on this central figure to make sense of a character who dines with death and climbs ever higher in his quest for a more tangy sexual conquest. Šveda’s Champagne aria Fin ch’han dal vino at the end of Act One was testosterone-driven and edgy, perhaps because the tempi was so fast it almost tipped over the cliff with hysteria. His serenade to the maid in the window Deh vieni alla finestra was truly seductive not to mention nicely paired with the step-in mandolin of principal viola player Rob Ashworth.
... to the delight and horror of leading Donna Elvira astray, [Robert] Gleadow was so utterly made for the role, it was as if Mozart penned it for him.
But there was another star in the room, Robert Gleadow’s Leporello was wild, wily, bewildered and utterly bewitching. A bass-baritone of considerable expressive ability but also the stage presence of a world-class actor. From his Catalogue aria Madamina, il Catalogo è questo as he swiped through the 1,003 women listed on his smartphone, to the delight and horror of leading Donna Elvira astray, Gleadow was so utterly made for the role, it was as if Mozart penned it for him.
The evening’s energy and brilliance owe much to the stage direction of Stuart Maunder. Although not given a blurb in the printed programme, this hugely experienced director lifted this out of ‘Concert’ and into ‘Theatre’. From the entrance of Pelham Andrews’ Commendatore in a blaze of light from the rear of the stalls to the organised panic of the ensemble in Zerlina’s “Aiuto, aiuto!” scene, Maunder’s contribution brought the message to life.
The betrothed sweethearts Masetto and Zerlina were a charming and relatable couple. Morgan Pearse right off the back of playing a brilliant Figaro for NZ Opera recently and the fresh and lyric beauty of Natasha Wilson singing a totally delicious Vedrai Carino literally enrobed in roses and cream.
Their Act One trio Protegga il giusto cielo accompanied by the excellent wind section with the powerfully voiced Donna Elvira of Brigitta Kele was one of the strongest musical moments of the evening.
The power couple Don Ottavio and Donna Anna brought appropriate opera seria to the piece. Impressively delivered coloratura and clear tone rang true in Il Mio Tesoro from Adam Frandsen’s Ottavio and Ekaterina Siurina’s Non mi dir was sung with beauty and elusive angst. Their Act One trio Protegga il giusto cielo accompanied by the excellent wind section with the powerfully voiced Donna Elvira of Brigitta Kele was one of the strongest musical moments of the evening.
Never was it so enjoyable seeing a man in the prime of his life and powers being dragged into the fiery pits of Hades. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and NZ Opera delivered a crackling version of this mighty Mozart opera with enormous fun and finesse. and the full audience of the Auckland Town Hall loved every note.