Don Giovanni

Conservatorium Theatre (Opera Queensland)


Giovanni is a serial seducer, a date-rapist, a manipulative libertine bordering on the psychotic. But his reckless, lusty, crazy-brave approach to life makes him a chick magnet and like all bad guys, he attracts good girls.

It’s a powerful and exciting story that has endured for centuries, not least for its supernatural elements, its strong themes of vengeance and divine punishment, and perhaps its hope (unrealised) of redemption. While the protagonist is not destined for heaven, Mozart’s music is heavenly beyond human deserving.

Opera Queensland do this work so well. They deserve their sell-out season.

This production was first presented in Brisbane in 1996. It is perfectly designed for the intimate and acoustically brilliant Conservatorium Theatre, and orchestra and singers combine seamlessly in creating a beautiful sound, supported by visually satisfying sets, costumes and lighting.

Director David Bell has created an intense and intelligent reading of the opera. His notes in the program detail his perception of a Giovanni “so alienated from his own humanity that he is inured to his own actions”.

This alienation can be sensed through the low wall in Bill Haycock’s semi-circular set behind which trellises, gauze curtains and mirrors give an extraordinary depth and hints of intricate activity.

The production features a truly startling final scene, where the now palpably deranged Giovanni has made Leporello become as a dog, complete with collar, chain and dogfood bowl, and then reveals his banquet for his visitor shaped in the form of the Commendatore’s naked ravished daughter.

Brilliant lighting effects flow from David Walters. The final descent into hell is spellbinding, with its stark image of a cold hell rather than a fiery furnace, better representing the last physical feelings Giovanni experiences as his hand is clutched by the dead Commendatore’s.

The singers perform well vocally and as actors. Argentinian-born and Sydney-trained Jose Carbo is a stunning Giovanni, totally in command vocally while injecting a Latin passion to his outrageous behavior.

Queensland Conservatorium trained Rosemarie Arthars is an Elvira to be reckoned with. Her voice and body movements make clear her combined passion for and abhorrence at Giovanni, which she cannot resolve until the very end. Meanwhile, I particularly liked the sustained vocal clarity and power of Rachelle Durkin’s Anna.

Brisbane’s Paul Darveniza clowns his way through the Leporello role as a perfect foil to Giovanni, and vocally holds up his part well. His catalogue aria comes across well (memo to props: haven’t you got a bigger book for those 2065 names? And where was Giovanni’s mandolin?).

Chinese-born Kun Xie, whose high tenor voice is well suited for Don Ottavio, gives a good representation of the doting but rather wimpish fiance of Anna. Vocally he was not so sure in Act 2 on opening night. By contrast Korean Hye Seoung Kwon’s peasant girl Zerlina started a little unsteadily but really warmed to the part, representing well her growth in character. Adam Miller (reminiscent of Bryn Terfel) robustly sings and acts a continually outraged Masetto. Bass Greg Scott gives a rich sound as the Commendatore in all but the higher registers, making for some beautiful male trio work when he provides the anchor against Giovanni and Leporello.

Nicholas Milton produces a constantly beautiful and well-balanced sound from the Queensland Orchestra, with the added element of his own playing of the Con’s precious fortepiano. The boutique chorus, including the two popular South African visitors Vuyani Mlinde and Desmond Ntshebe (whose homeland were providing the Australian Wallabies their own vision of hell as the post-show party kicked off), provide a rich clear sound, as well as providing great acting support as hoods, peasants and all-purpose bovver-boys.

Discovering from the program notes that da Ponte wrote Giovanni’s lines while fondling a 16-year-old servant girl helps explain the vitality of the libretto and adding to audience appreciation of the text are the large surtitles with Lionel Slater’s amusing free translation.

— John Henningham
(Performance seen: Fri 11th July 2003)