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Brooding Darkness

State Theater
05/11/2015 -  & May 16, 19*, 21, 23, 26, 30, 2015
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni, K. 527
Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Don Giovanni), Shane Lowrencev (Leporello), Emma Matthews (Donna Anna), Jud Arthur (Commendatore), John Longmuir (Don Ottavio), Jane Ede (Donna Elvira), Taryn Fiebig (Zerlina), Richard Anderson (Masetto), Opera Australia Dancers
Opera Australia Chorus, Anthony Hunt (Chorus Master), Siro Battaglin (Fortepiano), Orchestra Victoria, Anthony Legge (Conductor)
David McVicar (Director), Robert Jones (Designer), David Finn (Lighting Designer)

T. T. Rhodes & Opera Australia Dancers (© Jeff Busby)

From a cavernous crypt-like interior, we see a graveyard. Headstones unkempt and piles of garbage strewn with human bones augment looming stone walls and the decaying ceiling of a once grand palace. Black, whites, greys and searing light through smoke give this monotone opening visual a sense of murk and oppression which the director will explore throughout this realisation of Mozart’s masterpiece.

Collaborating with Opera Australia in the first production of a cycle of the Da Ponte/Mozart operas, celebrated Scottish director David McVicar creates a dark and threatening treatise upon the nature of evil and the sinister sides of human nature. This Don Giovanni lingers in the memory, evoking images of 19th Century fascination with the macabre and 21st Century enthralment with celebrity, low-life and sleaze. Mr. McVicar and designer Robert Jones have achieved a suggestion of the pre-Gothic literature of the early 19th Century. Black drapery, under-lighting throwing massive, ominous shadows and the use of supernumeraries to populate the stage with an array of funereal characters add a dimension to the threats of the wrath of Hell evident from the opening chords of the overture.

This production is all about the voices and Opera Australia have assembled a panoply of the best voices in Australia to bring life to this fearsome vision. Inevitably, the character of Don Giovanni himself must control the overall impression and Teddy Tahu Rhodes, returning to the company to reprise this role is magnificent. His voice is rich and powerful, yet he achieves moments of great tenderness in numbers such as his serenade – albeit through leers and smirks revealed only to the audience alone as he pursues yet another conquest for his list. This Don is no rollicking libertine, there is nothing to admire in his violence and premeditation as he stalks his prey. Mr. Rhodes’ characterisation sends shivers down the spine as he charms and deceives.

Emma Matthews’ Donna Anna is a thoroughly rounded character. She sways from swooning lover to furious revenge with dexterity and complexity. Mr. McVicar’s direction has emphasised throughout the opera duplicity and self-interest in all the characters and as much as the Don manoeuvres his women into his control, Donna Anna has no difficulty in sweet-talking Don Ottavio into accepting her explanation of the events which open the plot. Ms. Matthews brings her dazzling upper register and laser accuracy to this role as she does every time she performs. Her solos are remarkable but her ensemble work bears the hallmarks of mastery.

Shane Lowrencev as Leporello is a similarly multifarious character in this production. No longer the suffering servant, he has a price and for money and advancement this Leporello will play the fool, abet and enable all forms of treachery and still endeavour to pass himself off as a sweet-natured buffoon. Mr. Lowrencev’s voice is a compelling instrument in its own right but in combination with the other baritones he produced a miraculous sound.

Jane Ede gave an enraged and simultaneously gullible Donna Elvira. She too had her price and to dip again into the Don’s precarious world of sleaze and depravity, she will justify almost anything under the banner of “love”. Ms. Ede’s singing is as precise as it is colourful. She renders moments of ranting fury and contrasts them with girlish simplicity in her declarations of love. But in this world of corruption and self-motivation, her foolish naivety wins her few sympathies.

Taryn Feibig as Zerlina is the perfect third to this trio of exceptional women’s voices; her ensembles are beautifully modulated supporting the creation of a wonderful unity of sound. But in her solo passages, she shines, employing not only exemplary vocal strengths but exceptional acting skills to entrap and entwine the Masetto into accepting her version of the seduction by the Don.

McVicar could not have shouted more loudly: “We all have a price!” and posed the question of just how far we are all to blame in the perpetuation of the cult of class, fame and entitlement.

As Don Ottavio, John Longmuir contrasted Donna Anna’s rage and fear with sensitivity and warmth; he brought a lively determination to the calls to vengeance and justice. Jud Arthur’s Commendatore was boomingly foreboding and Richard Anderson’s Massetto a suitable flux between outraged husband and duped lover.

Orchestra Victoria under Associate Musical Director and Conductor Anthony Legge produced a well paced and balanced rendition. It is however, the dark underside of humanity which is the focus of this production and a source of its glowering beauty.

Gregory Pritchard



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