Opera Theatre Company at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, on 29 September 2016
Tonight, after too long a wait, opera returns to the Gaiety. There is a buzz of anticipation as the audience gathers and fills the auditorium. Presented as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival, Opera Theatre Company’s new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni features a freshly-translated libretto by novelist Roddy Doyle, which has already got people talking.
Doyle’s translation, as expected, relays Da Ponte’s razor-sharp text in a version of Dublinese – Tara Erraught’s Donna Elvira promises to offer Don Giovanni ‘pure hell’, and that she’ll ‘tear away his heart’, while the champagne aria starts to ‘fill them with vino’. There are exclamations of ‘Jesus!’ and references to bastards and worse. Funnily enough, however, it only reminds us how surprisingly well Hibernian English can relate to 18th-century Italian. More to the point, the words carry easily from the singers’ lips, with surtitles only needed occasionally. Communication is immediate, showing the real power of a workable singing translation. More than most operas, Don Giovanni jumps rapidly from comedy to horror to disgust to melancholy and back again, and the text simply takes us there.
Erraught’s Elvira is a pleasure to watch and listen to, and she brings tremendous vibrancy and energy to her voice in this role. Complementing this, Máire Flavin sings Donna Anna with pure tone and beautiful focus; tender, elegant and deeply moving. As her character’s partner, Don Ottavio, Alexander Sprague gives a fine account of this unforgiving role, his lyric tenor superbly clear and expressive. Daire Halpin and Brendan Collins make for a believable Zerlina and Masetto, with Halpin’s singing of the aria ‘Vedrai carino’ a particular highlight, reaching the emotional heart of the story without losing her sense of humour. John Molloy as Leporello is a revelation; on stage he is as theatrical an animal as ever but with a new element to his voice, an extra level of darkness and intensity that we’ve not heard from him before. Presiding over all is the Don of David Kempster, his smooth vocal lyricism an ironic counterbalance to the gangland bully he presents.
Gavin Quinn’s well-paced production doesn’t shy away from the roughness (and weirdness) of the original opera, whilst giving it an affectionately dystopian Dublin spin. Don Giovanni is anything but naturalistic and Bruno Schwengl’s production design acknowledges this, playing with the boundaries between stage and story, performance and reality, just as the characters do. At times a giant mirror swings around to face the audience, as if posing an open question. Opera’s return to the Gaiety also sees the RTÉ Concert Orchestra back playing in the pit, and Fergus Sheil’s efficient yet unhurried conducting brings out some superb playing from the ensemble.
It would be easy to say that this return to old haunts is a return to form, but if anything this fine production is much better than that, and shows the real potential we have in Irish opera right now. Playing all too briefly in Dublin and Cork, see it if you can.
Mozart: Don Giovanni
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, sung in a new English translation by Roddy Doyle
Director: Gavin Quinn; Designer: Bruno Schwengl; Lighting Designer: Sinéad McKenna; Conductor: Fergus Sheil
Cast: David Kempster (Don Giovanni); John Molloy (Leporello); Tara Erraught (Donna Elvira); Máire Flavin (Donna Anna); Alexander Sprague (Don Ottavio); Daire Halpin (Zerlina); Brendan Collins (Masetto); Jonathan May (Commendatore)
RTÉ Concert Orchestra