thu 25/04/2024

Don Giovanni, Welsh National Opera review - fine young cast let down by unhelpful conducting | reviews, news & interviews

Don Giovanni, Welsh National Opera review - fine young cast let down by unhelpful conducting

Don Giovanni, Welsh National Opera review - fine young cast let down by unhelpful conducting

Greatness of Mozart shines through the polyphonic muddle

The Commendatore's Statue (James Platt) comes to supper with Don Giovanni (Andrei Kymach)All images by Bill Cooper

If Don Giovanni is not the greatest opera ever written, it’s at least one of the very, very few that even in erratic performances have the capacity to seem it.

There was so much wrong, in detail, with WNO’s revival of John Caird’s now eleven year-old production in the Wales Millennium Centre on Friday that one might well have expected the whole marvellous edifice to fragment into nothing much more than a series of Mozartian gems. Yet somehow it stayed intact, and ended by generating a degree of real theatrical and even musical power.

Both the problems and the solution were with the music. Caird’s production, expertly reassembled here by Caroline Chaney, is a solid, intellectually unobtrusive rendering of the actual, or presumed, Da Ponte/Mozart image, 17th or 18-century Seville, a Spain of God and the Devil, of honour and grief and cowled monks, lent appropriate grandeur by John Napier’s heavy but mobile carved oak screens and bronze statues, one of which at the end is Don Giovanni himself, solidified into perpetual torment.

But before we had a glimpse of any of this, Tobias Ringborg had conducted an untidy, rough and ready overture, setting a ragged, unbalanced tone that never left the subsequent performance for longer than a few minutes here and there. Hard to pin down the reason for this. Ringborg was often inattentive to his singers, reluctant - or unaware of the need - to accommodate them in the matter of tempo, or where words or cadences called for a measure of flexibility. Nor were the orchestra, usually such an immaculate outfit, immune. From time to time ensemble was precarious, the instrumental texture confused, Mozart’s wonderful clarity of polyphony sacrificed in favour of some imaginary urgency of gesture or movement, a clumsy fortissimo here, too much brass or woodwind there. Scene from WNO Don GiovanniYet there were beautiful things as well: lovely wind playing in Donna Anna’s “Non mi dir,” where she pleads with Ottavio not to think her cruel for imposing a year’s grace on their nuptials, exquisite strings in Zerlina’s “Vedrai, carino,” sexual promise in the tenderest imaginable wrapping. But then both these arias were enchantingly sung. Spanish soprano Marina Monzó (pictured above with Trystan Llŷr Griffiths as Don Ottavio and Andrei Kymach as Don Giovanni) is one of the finest Donna Annas I’ve heard, poised and stylish, with great stage presence and lovely warm tone with just enough sheen to it. From the start she lifted the whole performance, even as she struggled with Don Giovanni on the balcony (and no smart suggestion here that she may actually have acquiesced).

Harriet Eyley’s Zerlina is no less touching on a lower level, and she catches precisely the agony of the honest but flighty peasant girl momentarily star-struck, lured into near disaster, rescued by music. Both her arias are among the loveliest things in all Mozart, and they both sounded it on this occasion.

Sarah Tynan as Donna Elvira in WNO's Don GiovanniBut this is throughout a potentially strong, young cast (doubled, it needs saying, by a no doubt excellent second cast that alas I haven’t heard). Andrei Kymach, the 2019 Cardiff Singer of the World winner, is an arresting, dangerous, even violent Giovanni, with plenty of fine, ringing tone, brilliantly athletic in “Fin ch’an dal vino,” sweet and alluring in “Deh, vieni” abetted by a mandolinist monk, a wicked touch that will have Messrs Caird and Chaney in trouble with St.Peter. Kymach suffered more than most from Ringborg’s waywardness, though the Donna Elvira, Sarah Tynan (pictured right), also had her moments and survived them well, except perhaps in “Ah, fuggi il traditor,” her Handelian warning to poor Zerlina, which Ringborg rushed almost off its feet.

I could go on. Simon Bailey’s Leporello is a genuine foil to Kymach, strong and weak, an incisive embodiment of the power of self-interest (after all, he gets a few girls himself, offering them his protection, as he puts it, in mockery of the Don’s own tactic). Trystan Llŷr Griffiths is that rarity, an almost convincing Ottavio, honour without action, but with musical spirit at least, perhaps tending a shade flat in “Dalla sua pace,” entirely excellent in “Il mio tesoro,” delivered to whoever will listen as the stage gradually empties: he is, after all, a bore, and meant to be. James Atkinson is a fine upstanding Masetto who could give as good as he gets if it weren’t for his lack of social standing. Finally the Commendatore, James Platt, though too small for his stone cowl, resolves everything in a powerful closing scene that nearly lets one forget the earlier troubles.

Having started with a grumble, I’ll end with one for good balance. One ought to be spared, in a serious opera house like the Millennium Centre, the horror of pop music blaring out in the foyers and (for heaven’s sake) the lavatories, as one emerges from some of the most sublime music ever composed. The Welsh pride themselves on their musicality. Here’s an opportunity to back up the claim.

Andrei Kymach, 2019 Cardiff Singer of the World winner, is an arresting, dangerous, even violent Giovanni


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article


The Masetto last night was sung by (the excellent) James Atkinson. Please amend.

It seems the amendment has been made - thanks for pointing out the proper name. Music Ed.

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters