MOZART’S opera Don Giovanni, with its story based on the fables of the notorious libertine and what would now be called serial sex offender Don Juan, is perhaps the Austrian composer’s greatest work.
There’s a bit of everything in this epic opera, from beautiful love songs through tragic laments, singalong tunes and vituperative calls for vengeance to a monumental summons to hell.
It can be performed in grand opera houses with vast opulent sets, large choruses and full orchestras or in a stripped-down version, as it was for Celebrate Voice in Salisbury’s intimate Medieval Hall in the Cathedral Close.
And in Richard Studer’s production, sung by a stunning company of principals accompanied by Phillip Thomas, the story only gained in its intensity. Two violated women bayed for the blood of a man who thought his money and birth gave him the right to have whoever he wanted, and (mostly) thought he was doing them a favour at the same time.
Philip Smith, most recently seen as a tender and sympathetic Sharpless in the Iford Festival Madame Butterfly this summer, captured the charisma and reckless charm of the Don. He was vividly and humorously matched by the Leporello of Pauls Putnins, who was a memorable Colline in Dorset Opera’s La Boheme in July.
Celebrate Voice founder and artistic director Lynsey Docherty doesn’t believe in doing things by halves, so the Salisbury-born singer, teacher and general inspirational force also gave a passionate performance as the hopelessly-in-love Donna Elvira, prepared to forgive her man whatever, and constantly prey to his lies and deceptions.
Amy Blake’s violated Donna Anna and Bonaventura Bottone’s ever patient fiance, Don Ottavio, are elegantly contrasted with the rustic passion of Zerlina (a performance crammed with sexual promise by the strangely-bewigged Carleen Ebbs) and her clumsy betrothed, Masetto, to whom Nick Dwyer brings besotted jealousy.
Matthew Tomko can certainly sing the thunderous role of the murdered Commendatore, but here his costume (was it intended as nightwear?) made him look like a Saxon re-enactor out of Monty Python.
The transformation of Giovanni’s servant wenches into hell’s ushers was cleverly done, and the whole thing, performed on a simple set in the difficult space that is the Medieval Hall’s stage, was compulsive and magnetic – another brilliant addition to Celebrate Voice’s growing catalogue of success.
The festival aims to bring all sorts of music to all sorts of people. The operas, performed by Lynsey Docherty’s friends and colleagues, might be offered to the public at affordable prices, but the standard is never compromised.
And special praise for the musical director, Phillip Thomas, who must at times have nodded to the Emperor’s comment that Mozart’s music had “too many notes.” A stupendous feat!
Here’s looking forward to next year.