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Accept with great pleasure! But what do you do when you’re invited to the same opera, three times, in different productions? Accept of course! It would be rude not to.
The opera concerned was Don Giovanni – Mozart and da Ponte’s version of Don Juan, the rich lothario or libertine who supposedly seduced thousands of women on his journey through life.
In the end, the Don gets dragged off to Hell by the statue of the father of one of his conquests, who he kills near the beginning. So the Don gets his comeuppance, but not before taking the audience through a rollocking ride of intrigue and drama along the way.
Mozart is a favoured composer for all opera houses and festivals.
His works are guaranteed to put bottoms on seats! But, whilst the major opera companies have been able to dip into the government’s Culture Recovery Fund to help them through the lean times of the pandemic, many of the UK’s Country House opera festivals, all self-funded, have been left to their own devices.
The great thing about the majority of Mozart’s operas is that they don’t require a large chorus – which helps when trying to cut costs and establish the 2-metre rule.
So where did I experience the Three Dons? One was at the Royal Opera House, another at glorious Garsington on the Getty Estate at Wormsley and the third, at the boutique Dorset Opera Festival near Blandford Forum.
Dorset’s first night miraculously coincided with the government’s Freedom Day and the Festival, also featuring Cosi fan tutte and Acis and Galatea, continued during the country’s single week of scorching weather.
Rather than compare all three, I feel compelled to focus on this production, because, frankly, Dorset’s Don was an absolute revelation – head and shoulders above the other two!
The production, by music polymath Paul Carr, took the tenet that Don Giovanni himself should be attractive to everyone: both women and men! And with Panamanian-American baritone, Nmon Ford in the title role, how could this not be the case?
Ford – last seen in the UK as Crown in the ENO production of Porgy and Bess – was a casting coup for Dorset’s artistic director, Roderick Kennedy. The audience was unable to take its eyes off this Don as he waltzed, pirouetted and jived his way through the role with supreme confidence, accompanied by his warm, ample, seductive baritone. This was a consummate performance that simply knocked spots off the other two (Dons).
Right from the beginning, Carr had his Giovanni stripping off and swapping clothing with his male colleagues. In the process, they all revealed bulging muscles and perfectly toned physiques. Even the two-metre tall Commendatore (Lukas Jakobski), arrived from his bed chamber in only his underwear.
This Don was physical with everyone: there was continual homo-eroticism on stage as Giovanni and Masetto (Thomas Chenhall) explored one another aided and abetted by the utterly brilliant Sam Carl as a sonorous and perfectly cast Leporello. (Catch him as Nick Shadow in the Glyndebourne Touring production of The Rake’s Progress this autumn. Believe me, this is a world-class voice and a first-rate actor!) Even Nico Darmanin’s exquisitely-sung Don Ottavio got in on the act.
Another revelation in this production was the young Scottish soprano Monica McGhee singing Donna Anna. It’s a hackneyed expression but, McGhee was born to perform this role! It will be her calling card to the world’s major opera houses.
As Donna Elvira, Rebecca von Lipinski was tall, elegant and looked phenomenal in her Stewart J Charlesworth-designed couture! She simply stormed through her role – the centre of attention whenever she was on stage. Sadly, she was robbed of Mi tradi, but such are the requisites of the Prague version of the opera – which is what Dorset had opted for.
Carl, Chenhall and Giulia Laudano (the production’s coquettish Zerlina) are all Emerging Artists – having previously made appearances in the Dorset Opera chorus over the years.
This Don was utterly beguiling from the get-go. It truly was an eye-opener as to what the opera is really all about. The production deserves to be seen in larger houses.
The other major star of this production was undoubtedly the company’s hugely talented music director, Jeremy Carnall. It’s worth a trip to Dorset merely to watch him on the podium! Every gesture, every nuance of Mozart’s glorious music flowed through his fingertips.
As well as Cosi and Acis, the Dorset Opera Festival also gave us a perfectly-studied recital of Winterreise by another of their former young artists: baritone Benjamin Hewat-Craw – currently making a name for himself in German houses.
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