Pacific Opera Victoria

Mozart's Don Giovanni

Dates 19, 21, 24, 26, 28 April 2007 at 20.00 Venue The Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton Street, Victoria

Don Giovanni Gregory Dahl Leporello Terry Hodges Donna Anna Monica Huisman Donna Elvira Frédérique Vézina Don Ottavio Benjamin Butterfield Masetto Phillip Addis Zerlina Michèle Bogdanowicz The Commendatore Gary Relyea

Conductor Timothy Vernon Director Glynis Leyshon Set and Costumes John Ferguson Lighting Gerald King

Reviewer J H Stape

Any subscriber to Pacific Opera Victoria knows that this is a company that unfailingly delivers sheer theatrical magic. Closing a brilliant 2006-07 season, POV's Don Giovanni showed yet again what an emphasis on acting, deft casting, and intelligent direction can do to move and excite an audience, and it's no surprise that this run has been sold out virtually from opening night.

Conductor Timothy Vernon's crisp direction coaxed an idiomatic performance out of the Victoria Symphony, and the ensemble work on stage was no less top flight, each singer contributing unstintingly to the creation of a theatrical illusion that was unrelentingly impressive. For one, this is most animated Don Giovanni out of the six or seven I've seen: the stage business was rarely gratuitous or focussed on keeping the audience stimulated but was thematically purposeful, save one or two clownish bits that went over the top.

The concept of the creative team was fundamentally theatrical: Don Giovanni himself as a theatre-piece, both self-regarding and watched throughout. Here he was never alone, with the stage nearly always crowded and society ever watchful as a sense of entrapment (both by society and by his inner self) grew to the point of claustrophobia.

Gregory Dahl's hunky and well sung Don is the libertine incarnate, with more subtlety than the role often gets. Terry Hodges's Leporello, by contrast, was showy and feisty: the servant loudly demanding equal attention as his master. When at the end of the last act he actually sits at the Don's table to munch down his stolen food, this conceit reaches its high point. All the more effective, then, is the opera's close in which Don Giovanni goes up rather than down to hell, for this is a topsy-turvy world where class status guarantees nothing, and things not what they seem.

The aristocratic set, dressed in clothing that makes them stagey and remote, win out over the Don in Mozart and Da Ponte's version, but the palm here goes to him rather than to conventional morality, and it is a final moment that sees the collective cast turn round to acknowledge his rare vision, disagree with it though they might.

Monica Huisman delivers a powerful Donna Anna vocally and dramatically. Frédérique Vézina's Donna Elvira is no less distinguished. These are intensely modern women -- fretful about their circumstances and bordering on the neurotic. Without any updating of costume or set, they live and speak to us in all their aristocratic stiffness, one shared by the Don Ottavio of Benjamin Butterfield, who sings and acts with characteristic sureness of touch. As foils, the very handsome peasant couple of Masetto (Phillip Addis) and Zerlina (Michèle Bogdanowicz), both in superb voice, threaten the status quo more than usual.

Gary Relyea's Commendatore was bone-chilling, his singing authoritative with his smokey voice used to fine effect. Dominating the stage, the statue here was more than simply a tribute to Donna Anna's father, but the embodiment of the rigid and fixed principles of a society that brooks no originality or transgression from the norm. The set, heavy and oppressive like a Spanish cathedral, invites us to sit in judgement on the rake and rogue, and the dark days of an all-seeing society are menacingly evoked by this most socially implicated of Don Giovannis.

The concept was utterly compelling, and the cast flawlessly bent its efforts to its working out, conveying a drama of several kinds of obsession. And therein lies POV's true contribution to the Canadian operatic scene: aside from offering fine singing and acting by veterans as well as by fresh new singers, its daring stagings and thoughtful choice of repertoire challenge audiences out of their daily grey. No wonder this company plays to full houses and is the talk of the town.

This production goes to London, Ontario, for five performances at The Grand Theatre from 25 May to 2 June.

© 2007 J H Stape