It may not quite get as many productions these days as the likes of La traviata, La bohème or Carmen, or even Mozart’s own Zauberflöte and Le nozze di Figaro, but Don Giovanni is probably the most written-about and the most universally worshipped opera in the performing canon. It has also the potential to be one of the more controversial: the story (is it a celebration? a condemnation?) of the eponymous serial seducer/rapist has become edgier fare in the #metoo era.

Luca Micheletti (Don Giovanni) and Anna Dowsley (Zerlina) © Keith Saunders
Luca Micheletti (Don Giovanni) and Anna Dowsley (Zerlina)
© Keith Saunders

This David McVicar production had its debut at Opera Australia in 2014, and thus does not respond directly to the societal upheavals of the last few years. Nonetheless, the revival under Matthew Barclay offered opportunities to test how new sensitivities might sit with traditional perspectives. The predominantly grey-coloured stage design by Robert Jones emphasised the gloomy and the gothic: disinterred piles of coffins and skeletons decorated the wings, while upstage a foreshortened graveyard was visible from time to time as a counterbalance to the comedic elements.

Certainly Luca Micheletti did not play the Don in an apologetic spirit. Quite the contrary. He revelled in shocking us, as when he defiled the tomb of his murder victim. Micheletti exuded charisma and pursued the Don's sexual aggressions with gusto. Vocally, he inhabited the role equally well, his gorgeous high baritone making “Deh vieni alla finestra” a heart-melting pleasure. One might condemn his libertinage, but his defiance of the supernatural at the end was the very stuff of romantic heroism, Byronism avant la lettre, just as the sight of pregnant, corpse-like figures dragging him to hell satisfied our sense of justice.

Luca Micheletti (Don Giovanni) and dancers © Keith Saunders
Luca Micheletti (Don Giovanni) and dancers
© Keith Saunders

The first of his victims, Eleanor Lyons as Donna Anna, was also in stunning voice. She has an enormous sound and a laser-like focus, altogether giving her real star quality. It would be unsurprising were her career to lead her to graduate to heavier Wagner and Strauss roles down the road (following in the footsteps of Christine Goerke and others). In the meantime, every number she was involved in was to be savoured, especially her vengeance aria “Or sai chi l’onore”.

Shane Lowrencev was one of the few principals to return from 2014, and his experience and comic instincts made Leporello a laugh-out-loud pleasure. He voice was a little less well-projected low down (which meant his asides in the supper scene were nearly inaudible), but he excelled in the Catalogue aria and was a rock solid presence in his many ensembles.

Eleanor Lyons (Donna Anna) and Jane Ede (Donna Elvira) © Keith Saunders
Eleanor Lyons (Donna Anna) and Jane Ede (Donna Elvira)
© Keith Saunders

As Donna Elvira, we had the excellent Jane Ede, who delivered the busy passagework of “Fuggi il traditor” in velvety tones. It is always a difficult role to bring off – Elvira is serious on the surface, but constantly the butt of jokes by librettist and composer – and perhaps she could have exaggerated her overly dramatic poses in some places to heighten the comedic deflation.

The peasant lovers Zerlina and Masetto (either a case study of a dysfunctional relationship, or a couple on the verge of discovering BDSM) were well cast, featuring Anna Dowsley, who has graduated from promising young talent into an accomplished artist in her own right, and the bluff-voiced Richard Anderson, another veteran from 2014.

The least grateful of the principal roles dramatically speaking is Don Ottavio; his ineffectual attempts at revenge and his hassling of his assaulted and bereaved fiancée to marry him make him seem pathetic. Juan de Dios Mateos didn’t make him any more persuasive than usual, although he produced a fairly pleasant tenor sound in lyrical set pieces like “Il mio tesoro”.

Although he sounded shaky when his amplified voice pervaded the graveyard scene, Gennadi Dubinsky was solid but not terrifying as the Commendatore in the all-important final confrontation. Supplementing the principals were members of the OA Chorus plus a variety of dancers, their careful choreography by Andrew George adding much liveliness to scenes such as the Act I finale.

Gennadi Dubinsky (The Commendatore) and Luca Micheletti (Don Giovanni) © Keith Saunders
Gennadi Dubinsky (The Commendatore) and Luca Micheletti (Don Giovanni)
© Keith Saunders

Xu Zhong conducted the orchestra with brisk efficiency, with just a few sub-par coordination moments between stage and pit. As so often in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, it took some little time for listeners to adjust to the muted sound emerging from the pit (for which the blame lies entirely with the theatrical design, not the musicians); sadly, the epic D minor opening of the overture came across as emasculated and lacking in the requisite demonic intensity. A special commendation to Siro Battaglin for nice imaginative continuo realisation, such as when he wove in brief snatches of pianistic textures from other works by Mozart.

****1