Sunday, July 29, 2012


Annabelle Chaffey (Donna Anna)
Samuel Dundas (Don Giovanni)
Photo: Albert Comper. 
Presented by Oz Opera                 

Canberra Theatre 14.07.12

Reviewed by Bill Stephens
Oz Opera is the touring arm of the national opera company, Opera Australia. It tours widely presenting scale-down productions of popular operas to audiences, many of whom would be unlikely to ever see a production of these operas in a capital city. 

These productions, usually sung by trainee singers, have not always served the operas well; often leaving the audiences they are intended to inspire scratching their heads and wondering why they should bother to see a full-scale production.

Fortunately this production of “Don Giovanni” is not one of those, and if you are of the persuasion that opera is at its most memorable when the sound, visual and dramatic elements all fuse with equal impact, then this production is for you. Because not only is it beautifully sung, (most of the company are already soloists with the national company) it is also a dramatically convincing and visually beautiful production in which the down-sizing cleverly tightens the focus on both characters and storyline.

In adapting this opera for touring Director Michael Gow has stripped away any arias and choruses superfluous to the telling of the story. The opera is sung in English, with just one aria, Don Giovanni’s lovely second act serenade, sung in Italian to give the audience a sense of the original language. This works surprisingly well, given that it is a serenade and its purpose is obvious, no matter in which language.  

Gow’s adaption of the original libretto, together with Anthony Legge’s  intelligent and accessible translation, clarifies the storyline so effectively that the audience is quickly drawn into the drama, which all takes place in the main square of a small ‘ 1950’s Italian village, where the villagers still care about marriage, and  wear flattering, colourful ‘ la dolce vita’ style costumes designed by Roger Kemp, who is also responsible for the attractive town square which, with just a few props and clever lighting, moves from cheerful and inviting, to menacing, even horrific, as the story progresses.

Particularly impressive is the quality of the singing, with each member of the company singing their roles flawlessly while offering confident, intelligent characterisations to propel the opera along. A splendid orchestral reduction by Andrew Green is beautifully played by the accomplished nine-piece orchestra conducted by Brett Weymark which adds significantly to the pleasures of this production.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Adrian Tamburini (Leporello)
Samuel Dundas (Don Giovanni)
Photo: Albert Comper
Heading the strong cast, Samuel Dundas is a persuasive, handsome Don Giovanni, charismatic and completely convincing as the desplicable, rapacious seducer.

His man-servant Leporello is played by Adrian Tamburini as more a friend than a servant. Because they are similar in age and physique this resemblance provides opportunities which are explored particularly effectively in the scene in which Don Giovanni forces Leporello to swap clothes with him to deceive Donna Elvira. This scene is laugh-out-loud funny, because their resemblance makes it much easier to believe that Donna Elvira could indeed be tricked by this ruse. It is also signals a subtle change in their relationship which makes the eventual climax to the opera even more powerful.

Samuel Sakker (Don Octavio)
Annabelle Chaffey (Donna Anna)
Photo: Albert Comper.

Among Don Giovanni’s many conquests Annabelle Chaffey is splendid as Donna Anna, radiating a delicious combination of antagonism and attraction, while Jane Ede rages magnificently as the jilted Donna Elvira.

Samuel Dundas (Don Giovanni)
Kiandra Howarth (Zerlina)
Photo: Albert Comper. 

Kiandra Howarth is a bewitching Zerlina, puzzled by the jealousy of her fiancé Don Ottavio, (a nicely understated performance by Samuel Saker) even as she’s drawn like a moth to the flame to Don Giovanni.  

Given his strong physical presence, the double casting of Eddie Muliaumaseali’I as both the Commendatore and Masetto, worked particularly well, so that Don Giovanni’s terror in mistaking Masetto for the Commendatore in the last hideous denouement is absolutely convincing.
Eddie Muliaumaseali'i (Masetto) 
Kiandra Howarth (Zerlina)
PhotoL Albert Comper.

This production ends with Don Giovanni being immolated by the townspeople. This endiing, devised by Michael Gow, is dramatically compelling and even more stunning because of the realisation that such an event could conceivably occur in such a town.

Here is a production of “Don Giovanni”, without any unnecessary bells and whistles but which brilliantly conveys the intent, experience and satisfaction of a major production and therefore a worthy example of what is being achieved by the national company.
This production is touring New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria until 15th September 2012.