Orchestra Wellington, Orpheus Choir, clarinet in brilliant Mozartian form

Orchestra Wellington and Orpheus Choir of Wellington, under Marc Taddei
Andrew Simon – clarinet; Emma Fraser – soprano, Elisabeth Harris – alto, Henry Choo – tenor, James Clayton – baritone

Mozart 1791
Ave Verum Corpus, K 618
Clarinet Concerto in A, K 622
Requiem in D minor, K 626

Michael Fowler Centre

Saturday 20 August 7:30 pm

To put together programmes celebrating periods in a composer’s life has been made pretty easy by the conscientious compilers of catalogues, either by musicologists or by the composers themselves. Some have been catalogued in more sophisticated ways, by genre of composition which leads to an elaborate system like that of Haydn by Hoboken (not the suburb of Antwerp).  But it’s not hard to list the ‘last words’ of Mozart.

There’s always a tendency to exaggerate composers’ troubles and tragedies, and Mozart’s last year is a favourite topic. But, as explained by conductor Taddei, in the months before his death Mozart was almost overwhelmed by commissions, and his prospects were looking very good.

Fruits of Mozart’s last months
The three works played at this concert were only some of the great music of his last six months. There was of course, The Magic Flute, and then the commission in July, when the Flute was well advanced, of La clemenza di Tito for the celebration of the coronation of Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia in Prague in September. The Flute was listed by Koechel as 620 and Clemenza, 621, which includes a wonderful aria with an obbligato basset clarinet part, ‘Parto, ma tu ben mio’, for the same clarinetist as was to play the concerto, Anton Stadler. So there are a couple of evenings’ music; and there’s some other bits and pieces like the last string quintet, and pieces for mechanical organ and for the ethereal glass harmonica.

The concert began with the lovely, and very short, Ave verum corpus. It was brilliantly performed, the choir disciplined so keenly that it gave the impression of a skilled chamber choir of around 30 singers that had somehow acquired huge power and depth of tone, which has to be credited to their conductor Brent Stewart.

The same characteristics were clear throughout the Requiem: remarkable pianissimi alternating with magnificent, powerful outbursts as at the Dies Irae and the Rex Tremendae; and the Sanctus, accompanied by chilling timpani, seemed to leave no room for doubting Mozart’s religious convictions.

While the soloists were individually well equipped with attractive voices, soprano Emma Fraser’s voice was more penetrating than the others, exhibiting a silvery strength, at so many points, in the Recordare and the Benedictus, so that it was hard to escape the feeling that the alto part, taken by mezzo Elisabeth Harris, which was simply not in the same decibel class. It lacked something in terms of weight in, for example, the sonorous Tuba Mirum exposed her, between tenor Henry Choo and Fraser, as a bit uncommitted. Yet there were times when Harris’s lovely voice could be heard to advantage.

Though neither of the men possessed voices that had quite the power of Fraser’s, their distinct tessiturae masked the difference. That was certainly the case in the Recordare where the bass line lies fairly low and James Clayton’s voice injected a degree of drama, to be expected from a singer who has made valuable contributions to opera since he has come here from Australia. Tenor Choo, on a return visit from Australia, after singing in Orchestra Wellington’s Choral Symphony in their first 2016 concert (there too, with Elisabeth Harris at his side), was an asset; an attractive, lightish, quintessentially lyric tenor whose voice sat comfortably in the vocal quartet.

In the Requiem, the choir wavered, not for a minute, in the brilliance, clarity and energy exhibited in the Ave Verum, which could all have contributed, if one was so minded, to religious fervor; deserving further mention of music director Brent Stewart. There was discipline which never got in the way of a sense of spontaneity; the opportunities for distinct sections of the choir demonstrated the strength of each, with no sign of any weakness from tenors which have tended to be a choral problem over the years. In the Confutatis, men were as dramatic as the women in their separate phrases. And the dynamic shifts in the Lacrymosa, inter alia, were highly arresting.

Though the choral scene is perhaps not as robust now as it was in the late 1980s and 90s, when it was energized by the revival of early music practice and the presence of Simon Ravens and the Tudor Consort, the best choirs are in excellent shape; Orpheus continues to lead in Wellington.

The orchestra, stripped back to what was probably the size of such an orchestra of 1792, normal strings running down from ten first violins, with pairs of clarinets, bassoons, horns and three trombones, plus timpani. Interestingly in the context of the clarinet concerto, Mozart’s scoring in the Requiem was for basset horns in F (the instrument’s bottom note, at the bottom of the bass stave).

Concerto for basset clarinet
Then there’s the oddball clarinet employed in the concerto, which Andrew Simon explained came and went with Anton Stadler, the work’s inspirer and first performer: the basset clarinet. Though another lower version of the clarinet, called a basset horn, had become a fairly familiar instrument and survived into the 19th century (see the entry in Wikipedia), Stadler wanted to use a new instrument called the basset clarinet instead of the basset horn. (the latter is bigger, with a curve near the mouth-piece). There is a fragment of a Mozart concerto (K 621b) for basset horn which evidently contains hints of the music for the clarinet concerto. Both the basset horn and the basset clarinet have attracted composers since the early 20th century.

But in the absence of an autograph score, there are unanswered questions. Today, the clarinet concerto is played on either the normal, A clarinet or the basset clarinet.

Interestingly, the concerto is not scored for orchestral clarinets: only for strings, plus pairs of flutes, bassoons and horns. Though it’s always partly a matter of one’s position, the orchestra created a feeling of spaciousness in the interesting MFC acoustic. If one expects to hear touches of sadness in music composed only a month or so before his death, Mozart and no pre-Beethoven composer was really an introspective, believing that music should express something of himself or reflect the troubles of his times. (That was left to the Romantics and of course is a condition that afflicts most of today’s composers). Accordingly, the first and third movements expressed positive characteristics, and the Taddei’s orchestra left no doubt about their grasp of the classical aesthetic.

And I don’t know why it came to mind during the performance, that here I was hearing the descendants of New Zealand’s first, and very fine, professional string orchestra, that Alex Lindsay had formed in 1948, just a year after the National Orchestra itself. It was reputed to be a finer ensemble of string players at the time than its big brother. It survived till 1963, after which its bones were reassembled in various reincarnations of a Wellington city orchestra, more or less continuously to the present time.

Andrew Simon proved an admirably adroit and exuberant player, master of tasteful ornaments, and in wonderful control of varied dynamics. Not least of course were the extra low notes of the basset clarinet and it was very interesting to hear the way Mozart seemed to have framed them particularly, drawing attention to them, and how Simon exploited these opportunities.

Having claimed that an 18th century composer refrained from injecting personal emotion into music, one had to hear a touch of suppressed sadness in the Adagio, though such a change of tone, rather than real emotion, is simply what is intrinsic to slow music: it’s hard to think of much music of the 19th century, depicting tragedy, that goes quicker than, say, Andante.

So this 99.9% full house heard a rather delicious concert, the third in Orchestra Wellington’s season, with the Orpheus Choir in stunning form, the orchestra in excellent condition, with a fine international soloist. In great music.

The Don rides out again – Eternity Opera’s “other” Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni – Eternity Opera’s “understudy” cast

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
English Translation by Edward Dent

Alex Galvin (director)
Simon Romanos (music director)
Sandra Malesic (producer)

Leoporello – Nino Raphael
Don Giovanni – Orene Tiai
Donna Anna – Amanda Barclay
Commendatore/Statue – Derek Miller
Don Ottavio – Chris Berentson
Donna Elvira – Hannah Catrin Jones
Zerlina – Emily Mwila
Masetto – Charles Wilson

Dancers and Chorus: Taryn Baxter, Minto Fung,
India Loveday, Sarah Munn, Jessica Short

Douglas Beilman (concertmaster),
Anna van der Zee (violin) Victoria Janëcke (viola),
Inbal Meggido (‘cello) Victoria Jones (double-bass),
Timothy Jenkin (flute) Merran Cooke (oboe),
Mark Cookson, Moira Hurst (clarinet),
Ed Allen (horn),
 Christopher Hill (guitars),
Josh Crump (trumpet),
Andrew Yorkstone, Mark Davey (alto trombone),
Hannah Neman (timpani)

Hannah Playhouse, Wellington

Wednesday 24th August, 2016

What a delight to be able to enjoy, within the space of a few days, a second, almost entirely different cast performing the same operatic production! Eternity Opera’s Don Giovanni had opened on the previous Saturday (reviewed by Middle C, below) and this was the single chance for the “understudy cast” members to demonstrate what they could do in public – with the exception of the Zerlina, Emily Mwila, for whom there was no understudy, and whose performance was a great pleasure to see again, in any case!). So this evening’s performance was a tantalizing mixture of deja vu with fresh, new faces and voices and characterizations, as interesting to compare with the “other” as to enjoy for its own qualities. I confess that I’m inclined towards the latter approach, though I may let the occasional counter-impression slip through the net by accident, as it were.

Firstly, though, there were the constants between the two performances – the joy of listening all over again, for example, to Mozart’s score brought forward and sharpened in focus as conducted with great energy and commitment by Simon Romanos, and expertly played by the first-rate ensemble. I was seated in a different place in the auditorium this time round, in front of the singers and further away from the orchestra, and didn’t get the “edge” of the instrumental attack to the same extent, the music seeming to having a more rounded and integrated-with-the-stage sound. I noticed a couple of dropped notes in places in the solo lines, which could be put down to fatigue, but registered just as strongly the support the players gave to one another and to the singers – at the risk of singling out certain players, I delighted all over again, for example, in cellist Inbal Meggido’s obbligato accompaniment of Zerlina’s “You are cruel, dear Masetto” (“Batti, batti o bel Masetto”), the playing at once so deliciously insouciant and having great tensile strength, signifying the encirclement and breaking-down of her jealous lover Masetto’s defences with her abundant, coquettish charms.

Of course that was just one of many felicitous detailings which we were able to enjoy, aspects of the sterling work done by the entire quintet of string players throughout. Another delight was guitarist Christopher Hill’s accompanying of Don Giovanni’s serenade to Donna Elvira, following on of course from the player’s unfailingly sensitive recitative accompaniments, which I thought worked surprisingly well. The various winds, including the horn, aided and abetted the singing throughout with gorgeously-phrased melodic introductions, counterpoints and resonating harmonies – and I loved the impact made by the introduction of those extra brass and the timpani for the Second Act’s “statue” scenes.

I was grateful to director Alex Galvin for his decision to present the show in period costume and with stage settings that reflected the composer’s time, enabling the full flavour of Mozart’s and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte’s partnership to play freely in a more-or-less “intended” context. The use of English greatly benefitted these interactions, the point as I saw it being not to “update” but to illuminate the story. I thought Galvin’s conception of the staging nicely took the wind out of the sails of those who ceaselessly contend that opera needs to be contextually “modernised” for today’s audiences to “connect” with. And the response of a young friend of mine who also saw the show on this particular evening was, at the end, to excitedly ask when the company would be staging its next production!

Of course, reproducing what one imagines would be anything like the settings and atmospheres prevalent in the composer’s own era is an art-form in itself, even using the libretto’s detailing as source-material. I liked very much Alex Galvin’s opting for black backdrops which couched the production in more-or-less constant darkness, one that for most of the time connects with the story’s time-of-day frame and its rather Goya-esque settings. Having said that, I thought the opening needed to be made even darker, the characters (Leporello, Donna Anna and Don Giovanni) too viscerally identifiable during the latter’s attempted violation of Donna Anna. Conversely, there were a couple of moments where the oppressiveness of the gloom might for the sake of theatrical contrast have been momentarily brightened, such as the Act One scene where Zerlina and Masetto are celebrating their marriage with their friends, and even, a little later, the meeting of Don Giovanni with Donna Anna, the woman he had attempted to seduce the night before. However, the production’s instinctive and on-going evocation of darkness served the story and its various themes well.

What colour we experienced came largely from the costumes which in nearly all cases in both performances eloquently “spoke” for their particular characters, with only the first-choice Donna Elvira (Kate Lineham) being, I thought, made to look a touch too matronly. The rest of both casts inhabited their various garments readily and easefully, allowing the essential personalities to shine forth – perhaps in the cemetery scene, the “Darth Vader” (from the film “Star Wars”) aspect of the Statue, a memorial to the Commendatore, slain by Don Giovanni, looked somewhat incongruous at first, but the apparition’s supernatural aspect logically gave its appearance a kind of “carte blanche”, stimulating, to say the least!

So, what of the cast this time round? Away from the “comparison” aspect of putting the two ensembles together role-by-role, I would say that each of the singers had something unique and tantalizing to bring to their individual parts. In some cases stage deportments and voices took time to warm up and properly activate, but in almost every case were firing and exuding energies and resonances by the opera’s end. A case in point was Giovanni’s servant Leporello, portrayed by Nino Raphael, whom I thought somewhat indolent, both physically and vocally, at the start, adopting a passive, arguably too nonchalant-sounding aspect when viewing his master’s would-be amorous exploits, and in doing so for me making his character seem uninvolved almost to a fault. As the story proceeded he seemed to gradually wake his Leporello up and bring out a sparkle more readily in both word and deed, until by the end he seemed in much greater possession of the part, or vice versa.

Something of the same languidity hung about the well-developed shoulders of the Don, Orene Tiai – his aspect seemed more happy-go-lucky than intense and predatory, an “easy-come-easy-go” attitude which didn’t develop any pronounced “edge” normally associated with the character’s efforts to pursue sexual adventures. He did at certain times convey a mode which suggested he was accustomed to getting his way, but he rarely gave a sense of having that unquenchable appetite for women which he admitted to at one point in the opera, despite the impressive statistics proffered by Leporello concerning his master’s amorous activities. His voice was by turns charming and sonorous in his set numbers, more alive and purposeful there, I thought, than in recitative, where he tended to “sing-song” rather than “point” his delivery of the lines. Still, he did well to move the action on at the beginning when “confronted” by the Commendatore, the latter either missing or failing to properly emphasise a movement or gestural cue or a vocal challenge to fight, so that the Don had to propel the action on unprovoked – or so it seemed!

The great ensemble finale at the end of the first act was a true galvanising point, which seemed from the new act’s beginning to give everybody’s stage personae more intensity – a kind of edge was raised which, in the Don’s case, carried him on something of a tide towards his confrontation with the Statue in the cemetery and fuelled their final encounter at the conclusion of Giovanni’s supper scene. Derek Miller’s Statue seemed fortunately to be able to generate more heft and power than he managed to find as the ineffectual Commendatore, which set the scene for the Don’s final despatch at the hands of a group of infernal cohorts of Hell – all women, incidentally, which seemed properly meet and just.

As for the women who were the objects of the Don’s somewhat haphazard attentions at various stages of the evening, all conveyed a distinction of character which enhanced their place in the drama – Amanda Barclay’s Donna Anna fiery and volatile, Hannah Catrin Jones’s Donna Elvira upright and dignified, mingling constraint with moments of deeply-felt grief and desire, and Emily Mwila’s Zerlina, pert, vivacious and totally winning. I did feel a little startled at the immediacy of some of Amanda Barclay’s expressions of blood-lust made in her “vengeance” duet with her hapless fiancee, Don Ottavio, but otherwise responded to her obvious involvment with the character and the story. Hannah Catrin Jones, in comparison, was more controlled in both deportment and vocal expression, wanting, I thought something of Amanda Barclay’s impulsiveness and spontaneity in her expression, but not too much! Both singers gave pleasure when shaping their longer lyrical lines with beauty and sensitivity, and not having their voices subjected to pressure from the strictures of the composer’s more intensely-wrought vocal figurations.

Victims, too, by proxy, of the Don’s predatory activities, were the men involved with these women, such as Don Ottavio, who seemed here, to all intents and purposes, practically neutered by Giovanni’s near-violation of his fiancee, Donna Anna. At the best of times, long on declamatory intent and short on effective action, Don Ottavio (sung by Chris Berentson) made a noble-hearted and dutiful, if somewhat emasculated impression as per his character. Berentson’s acting was consistent and reliable, as was his ensemble singing, but his voice needed more heft and juice when heard solo. Da Ponte and Mozart certainly got it right in ascribing desperate marriage-delaying tactics to poor Donna Anna, faced with the deadening prospect of eking out her days with a dutiful but lacklustre husband.

On the other hand, Masetto (here portrayed by Charles Wilson), the peasant lad betrothed to the pretty and vivacious Zerlina, whom the Don took a shine to in the first act, readily displayed his displeasure at the situation, railing against his partner’s coquettish behaviour and causing her great remorse, leading to some delicious interplay between the characters as Zerlina exerted her well-nigh irresistible charms upon her aggrieved sweetheart, and achieved the desired result. Though arguably not appearing robust and rustic enough for a peasant lad, Wilson’s sense of character made it work, singing and acting alongside Emily Mwila’s Zerlina with heartwarming involvement.

In both productions the chorus work sparkled (in the wedding and festive scenes) and resounded with doom-laden tones (in the opera’s final scene, where the Don is dragged down to Hell by the femme fatales turned demons!). Whatever the scene the deployment of people on stage created atmosphere, colour and excitement, and advanced the drama.

While the performance by-and-large confirmed the choice of principals for the “first” cast the performances described here enshrined for the most part viable alternatives whose realisation worked in each case, enabling the show “to go on”. I thought doing both an excellent idea, especially considering the number of people I saw who, like myself had attended the other production as well.

One is left with more-than-ample feelings of enthusiasm and goodwill towards the company and its director, with a hopeful view to there being further operatic worlds for them to conquer – on its own, the audience attendance and its response to the performances would have been heartening. The production certainly demonstrated that, if there’s sufficient energy, commitment and feeling for the art-form, it’s so very worthwhile and rewarding to have opera done in almost any performance scale, if the resources to do so can be found.

I can only echo the sentiments expressed in the final sentence of my review of the “first cast” performance in wishing Alex Galvin and Eternity Opera every future success.

Opera with energy and excitement – Eternity Opera Company’s Don Giovanni at the Hannah Playhouse

Eternity Opera Company presents:

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
English Translation by Edward Dent

Alex Galvin (director)
Simon Romanos (music director)
Sandra Malesic (producer)

Cast: Leporello – Jamie Henare
        Don Giovanni – Mark Bobb
        Donna Anna – Barbara Paterson
        Commendatore/Statue – Roger Wilson
        Don Ottavio – Jamie Young
        Donna Elvira – Kate Lineham
        Zerlina – Emily Mwila
        Masetto – Laurence Walls
        Dancers and Chorus: Taryn Baxter, Minto Fung, India Loveday
        Sarah Munn, Jessica Short

Orchestra: Douglas Beilman (concertmaster), Anna van der Zee (violin)
                Victoria Janëcke (viola), Inbal Meggido (‘cello)
                Victoria Jones (double-bass), Timothy Jenkin (flute)
                Merran Cooke (oboe), Mark Cookson, Moira Hurst (clarinet)
                Leni Mäckle, Peter Lamb (bassoon), Ed Allen (horn)
                Christopher Hill (guitars), Josh Crump (trumpet)
                Andrew Yorkstone, Mark Davey (alto trombone)
                Hannah Neman (timpani)
Hannah Playhouse, Wellington

20-27th August, 2016

The name “Eternity Opera” is itself a splendid gauntlet-brandishing gesture, an assertive declaration of overall purpose and intent, reinforced by a note in the programme for Saturday night’s opening of the new company’s season of “Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”–  firstly, “to stage productions that are exciting and accessible to anyone” and, just as importantly, “to support the many talented singers and musicians in the Wellington region”. Judging by what the opening night’s performance managed to achieve in terms of immediacy and intensity, there was plenty of excitement and involvement for the audience in Wellington’s Hannah Playhouse, strange though it might have seemed for those of us familiar with the venue’s history to see opera performed there.

Whatever misgivings one might have felt beforehand along these lines, particularly regarding the venue’s relatively limited performing space for both singers and orchestra, were immediately blown away by the impact of the Overture’s opening.  The immediacy of it all seemed to me to bring one far closer to the “inner life” of the music than the somewhat distanced effect of having the performers on a vast stage and in a sunken orchestral pit. Instead, here they all were, almost, it seemed, within touching distance! The effect was, I thought, electric and energising, right throughout the work.

With the Overture at the beginning, one relished the instrumental playing’s focus, energy and infinite variety of colour and nuance. It all “clicked” as, amid the gloom, my eyes began to “pick out”, one by one, the faces of some of Wellington’s top musicians. Conductor Simon Romanos readily found the “tempo giusto” for both the music’s monumental opening and the allegro which followed, pointing up for us the opera’s Janus-faced aspect – what the composer himself styled as both a “dramma giocoso” (a mix of drama and comedy), and, in his own catalogue of compositions, an “opera buffa” (comic opera).

The performance used Edward Dent’s English translation, which came across well in the theatre’s intimate spaces. First to appear on the stage was Leporello, the Don’s servant, sung by Jamie Henare with wry, Sancho Panza-like humour throughout, understandably taking a little time to warm up his voice’s energies in this opening scene, but, a little later, making the most of the famous “Catalogue aria”, singing and characterising the words with obvious relish. Servant and master played off one another along the way with plenty of complementary panache and mordant wit, a highlight being Leporello’s “Mr.Bean cut down to size” transformation at the hands of his master, when being disguised as the latter for further nefarious purposes.

As for the redoubtable Don Giovanni himself, Mark Bobb made a personable hero/villain, conveying both the energy and underlying world-weariness of the habitual seducer – reflected, of course in the character’s almost total lack of success with the sexual conquests he pursued in the course of the opera. While his voice had its limits, such as insufficient “top” with which to clinch the hedonistic splendour of his “Champagne aria”,  his singing early on in the piece wasn’t without charm, in the first act convincingly and seductively all but completely breaking down the defences of the peasant girl, Zerlina, about to be married, and, in the second act, mockingly serenading firstly his jilted lover Donna Elvira, who’d come to town in pursuit of him and to make life as difficult for him as possible, and then switching his focus to her maid.

Sparks were effectively struck by Giovanni’s encounters with the Commendatore, the father of Donna Anna, the latter another of the Don’s would-be conquests. Both the first-act duel between the two men, and the return of the murdered Commendatore as a statue to take revenge on the reprobate worked up plenty of dramatic and musical steam. Throughout these escapades, Mark Bobb’s portrayal veered convincingly between bravado and dissipation, strongly conveying at the end both his character’s defiance of heavenly retribution for his crimes of excess, and his grim acceptance of the fate in store for him.

Roger Wilson brought sonorous authority to the Commendatore/Statue role, using his powerful voice to great effect, though thanks to his costume his “Statue” persona for me more readily evoked “Darth Vader” (of “Star Wars” fame) than anything else. Nevertheless, he and Giovanni really made something of their supernatural confrontation, building up to the “mark of doom” moment when their hands clasped, here most excitingly realized.

Don Giovanni is certainly an opera that puts relationships to the sword, as witness the ardent but largely ineffectual peregrinations of Don Ottavio, who’s Donna Anna’s betrothed and who seemed destined to remain so indefinitely, on account of his beloved’s grief at her father’s death. Jamie Young enacted what can be a thankless part, with plenty of palpable feeling for his sweetheart, best expressed in recitative, dialogue and ensembles set-pieces rather than in full-scale arias, where his voice seemed to lose its quality under pressure.

Another victim was Masetto, one of the villagers, along with his to-be-partner, Zerlina, whom the Don had already lost no time in making the focus of his attentions for a while. I always saw (or heard) Mazetto as someone essentially rustic, a “salt-of-the-earth” character with a few rough edges, which the elegant, modulated portrayal of Laurence Walls seemed to have knocked off and smoothed around, making the character appear in manner and voice more poet and philosopher than country boy. Still, his interaction with Emily Mwila’s Zerlina, his sweetheart, had a lovely innocence, beautifully delineated during her singing of “Batti, batti” (Beat me, beat me), by way of winning back his ruffled affections in the wake of her “dalliance” with the Don.

Turning to the women, the first we encountered was Donna Anna, daughter of the Commendatore and betrothed of Don Ottavio, but who had somehow aroused the interest and attentions of Giovanni – Barbara Paterson’s portrayal of Anna captured, I think, much of the character’s ambivalence regarding her attempted seduction by the Don, thus “awakening” aspects of her as a woman which the dutiful Don Ottavio might well have left undisturbed. A certain “edge” to her voice sharpened the vibrant intensity of her character, one which became almost too incisive at certain pressure-points. Still, there was no doubting her dramatic commitment and the willingness to interact with others – a well-honed sequence was the “vengeance” vow demanded of Ottavio by Anna immediately following the discovery of her murdered father’s corpse, Barbara Paterson and Jamie Young between them generating and conveying plenty of force and weight.

By contrast Giovanni’s rejected sweetheart, Donna Elvira, beautifully realized by Kate Lineham, mingled intensity of feeling for her treacherous ex-lover with anger, scorn, and despair on one hand and frustration and determination on the other. Hers was a voice that, apart from the occasional moment of pressure affecting the singing line’s trajectory, filled out the melodic contours with such beauty as to produce moments of glowing warm amidst the gloom. Her Elvira was, it seemed, a character ready to forgive and reconcile with any wrongs done by others, imparting a human dimension to the drama whose privations engaged our sympathy.

Where both Anna and Elvira were sophisticated society women, the third female role was Zerlina, whose delightfully coquettish portrayal by Emily Mwila was one of the show’s highlights, and who exuded both rude, rustic health and artfully-wound persuasive charm right from the start. Helped by a beautifully-modulated and flexibly adept voice she “owned” both music and character and brought them together with an ease and fluency that suggested here was a “natural” at what she did on the musical stage – I’ve already mentioned her winning “Batti batti” in tandem with Laurence Walls’ Masetto, and altogether enjoyed her work immensely.

Though the set couldn’t be described in any way as “lavish”, its darkness matched the atmosphere of most of the opera’s scenes, with the exception, perhaps of the first garden scene, during which Zerlina and Mazettto were to be married. The remainder framed the spherical settings with black curtains, underlining the darkness at the centre of the Don’s self-destructive impulses and the despair/fear felt by those attempting to keep in tabs on him. Costumes were more-than-usually striking against the black  backdrops, generally mirroring what we were able to glean of each character, with a few unexpected stimulations, such as the space-age statue in the cemetery scene!

In terms of purpose and intent one could safely declare that this production of “Don Giovanni” did excellently well, making what I thought were all the right gestures for encouragement of further production activities, given that, unlike the way pursued by the opera’s eponymous hero, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, for fledgling artistic ventures. One can only wish director Alex Galvin and his company every success, while at the same time encouraging enthusiasts and interested parties to get behind them with all the support an artistic community sympathetic to such a venture can muster.