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20 August, 2014

McVicar Don Giovanni in Sydney

Excellent new production - finally a fully-fledged Don Giovanni!

Friday 25th July 2014. Don Giovanni at Sydney Opera House.

Conductor - Jonathan Darlington
Director - David McVicar
Set & Costume Designer - Robert Jones
Lighting Designer - David Finn
Choreographer - Andrew George
Fight Coordinator - Scott Witt
Assistant Director - Matthew Barclay

Don Giovanni - Teddy Tahu Rhodes
Leporello - Shane Lowrencev
Donna Anna - Elvira Fatykhova
Don Elvira - Nicole Car
Don Ottavio - John Longmuir
Zerlina - Taryn Fiebig
Masetto - Richard Anderson
Commendatore - Jud Arthur


This was a pleasing performance with a balanced cast of serious opera singers in a rich, dark and complex production. I look forward to seeing it again in better seats as the full depth of the stage was used behind and beneath a huge gangway staircase which initially angled down from the stage ceiling during the overture. Much of the opera’s action took place on or around this broad black stairway.

On the prompt side I could see the wings with outpourings of black nondescript matter reminiscent of coal tailings. Were we in hell already in Act one? There was an ornate ceiling attached to the underside of the enormous stairway.

While opera is notoriously peppered with disasters, three in the one month in Sydney would seem to indicate a lack of due diligence. After the sacked soprano and imbroglio over donors’ amenities that weren’t, this gala lost English titles at the start of Act 2. After ten minutes or so the titles finally reappeared, albeit out of synch. At that moment Mr Tahu Rhodes was half way through his famous De vieni alla finestra and must have wondered why the audience applauded in the middle of the second verse. Furthermore, the section with missing titles was crucial to understanding that the Don and his side-kick rabbit man were swapping clothes as a damsel deception. It reminds us of the days before titles when much of the stage action was murky for many of us.

Mr Tahu Rhodes sang beautifully with his large, smooth and expressive baritone voice. It makes one wonder why he is spending so much time with a microphone in light musicals. Did he do all that training to be amplified in Broadway genre?

Despite generations of reverent adherence to Mozart’s scores, there has been a recent trend to interpolate or embellish as has happened with virtually every other composer (not Wagner?). We heard a hint of such a ‘liberty’ in this otherwise ‘come scritto’ reading (Or sai chi l’onore) sung beautifully by Ms Fatykova. Otherwise everything was by the book to my ear.

As with Mozart’s other operas I sometimes find myself vexed by the relentless philandering sociopathy on stage … yet we hear the most wonderful string of miraculous arias and set pieces that one would not be without. And for the first time in over 20 years the company now performs the entire work as Mozart left us. Like other composers, he tinkered with his works and to my mind it is a travesty to leave out the added pieces. And it must have been so unsatisfying for competent singers to have big arias omitted.

Mr Longmuir has come of age and cuts a fine figure on stage with all the necessaries for the noble but puling Don Ottavio. Nicole Car has an extraordinary and bell-like soprano, almost lifting roof tiles. And she puts her all into the drama.

Mr Lowrencev just seemed wrong for Leporello. Taryn Fiebig cuts a fine Zerlina while Richard Anderson again plays Masetto, frequently the victim of a king-hit (or coward punch as we are now meant to call it). It almost goes without saying that the chorus and orchestra under Maestro Darlington were splendid.

This production is a worthy and faithful outing with an excellent cast - it should not be missed by those who like Mozart operas and who can get to the Sydney Opera House this month.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

Post script on opera company surveys: at 7am after each opera performance I have attended I receive a promotional email with link to a survey asking me my views on the performance. I have done one of them and deleted the rest. This is yet another gauche move by a company which, looking at next year’s anaemic season, needs a funeral director in place of its current management. Very sad for a once great opera company which performed up to 18 different operas each year most with international quality casts.