Don Giovanni at Aotea Centre

By William Dart

The French Revolution was two years away when Don Giovanni appeared in 1787; the world was changing, social stratagems were shifting, and it was reflected in the operas of Mozart.

One is reminded of this in Jonathan Miller's production of the opera, picked up by NBR New Zealand Opera and playing in Auckland until July 23, as characters carry out their intrigues and vendettas around Robert Israel's stark neoclassical slabs and portals.

Working within Miller's template, director Stanley M. Garner does full justice to the dramma and giocoso (both serious and comic sharing the stage) that Mozart stipulates.

Group dynamics are the lifeblood, from the opening tangle of seducer and victim to the lively recitative dialogues that propel the plot over Bruce Greenfield's harpsichord.

One of the best interchanges comes when Leporello gives his master an amatory update before the Don's Champagne aria. One is struck by how well Paul Whelan and Conal Coad work together as Don and servant.

Whelan is more "lad on the loose" than villainous lecher, but then perhaps this makes Coad's Leporello all the more sinister.

Coad is a dynamo and can inject venom in his patter with the speed and precision of a viper; Whelan's strength is the beauty of his vocal line.

Patricia Wright's Donna Anna makes a strong impression and only near the end, in the punishing Non mi dir, does a sense of tiredness creep in.

Marie-Adele McArthur creates a lusty, busty heroine out of Donna Elvira, and is a whirlwind on stage.

Three cast members come from over the Tasman. Ali McGregor's Zerlina is prettily sung but needs more peasant warmth for me, especially in Batti, batti and John Brunato, a Mel Gibson look-alike if ever there was, is a staunch Masetto.

Jaewoo Kim, playing Ottavio with a certain formality, reveals his tenor credentials in the testing Il mio tesoro.

Conductor Wyn Davies gives more than enough "dramma giocoso" to ensure an engaging night at the opera.

What: Don Giovanni
Where: Aotea Centre

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