Like all of Mozart's mature works, Don Giovanni has ambiguities and staging difficulties enough to challenge any director. Sara Brodie’s production, which made its debut in Christchurch last year, brings the Don's tale of downfall forward into the 21st century and gives the audience the opportunity to re-evaluate the timeless tale in the context of their own time. Subtle re-jigging of the subtitles further submerges the audience in this world. The show is set in and around a seedy, dilapidated nightclub aptly named “Libertino’s”, complete with poledancers and Leporello posing as the club's bouncer. The cast are forever fiddling with their smartphones (Don Giovanni's "list" of conquests is catalogued in one) and Donna Elvira carries an ultrasound photo of her baby with Giovanni.

Jaewoo Kim (Don Ottavio) and Lisa Harper-Brown (Donna Anna) © Neil Mackenzie
Jaewoo Kim (Don Ottavio) and Lisa Harper-Brown (Donna Anna)
© Neil Mackenzie

There is no doubt the graffiti-covered, crumbling walls of the set were visually effective but occasionally the large moving parts seemed to trap the cast into having to awkwardly re-walk through doors. Sometimes the direction was a little busy, the oft-present chorus serving as more of a distraction from than any enhancement of the plot. The tension also flagged somewhat during Act II's succession of long, virtuosic arias. Slight cuts were made to the score without quite convincing that the music lost was compensated by any particular dramatic strengthening and for this reviewer, the production fell apart completely in its reimagining of the final scene.

Rather than the Commendatore's statue coming to life, here we have a homeless man who happens to look exactly the same as the dead Commendatore being paid to pretend to come back to life while all of Giovanni's victims surround and kill our title character. I'm no detractor of rethinking great works, but this really just didn't make much sense. If they planned to kill him anyway, why involve the faux-Commendatore? Plus I think an important part of Don Giovanni's mystique is that he is unable to easily be resisted or killed without some kind of otherwordly intervention - this kind of ending renders the character less exceptional than the rest of the work would have one believe.

Amelia Berry (Zerlina) © Neil Mackenzie
Amelia Berry (Zerlina)
© Neil Mackenzie

Fortunately, the cast was mostly vocally and dramatically on point. Best of all was newcomer Amelia Berry's Zerlina, giddily (and drunkenly) celebrating her hens' night when Don Giovanni arrives. Rarely have I seen a more comfortable singer on stage, her movements during "Batti, batti" establishing her as a more subtle seducer than Giovanni himself. Both here and in "Vedrai, carino", her warm lyric soprano caressed Mozart's lines, with coloratura superbly integrated. As the Don, Mark Stone was suitably suave and seductive both physically and vocally, smoothly crooning through his recitatives with Zerlina. Both "La ci darem la mano" and his serenade were delectably sung.

Warwick Fyfe, who made a notably intense and tormented Rigoletto in Auckland a few years ago, showed a very different side as Leporello. Along with Berry, he was the most natural stage animal, creepily stealing locks of women's hair and snatching hidden selfies of them. The byplay between servant and master seemed genuinely tense with more than undercurrent of danger; one really sensed Leporello's fear of his master.

Anna Leese (Donna Elvira) and Mark Stone (Don Giovanni) © Neil Mackenzie
Anna Leese (Donna Elvira) and Mark Stone (Don Giovanni)
© Neil Mackenzie

Anna Leese's Donna Elvira, sporting easily the largest voice on the stage, was a little wild vocally at her first appearance but this served to underline the character's hysteria quite appropriately. I found Lisa Harper-Brown a little wan as the soprano soloist in the Verdi Requiem last year but here she made for a most lyrical Donna Anna, anguish to the fore in her portrayal. Neither quite made it through their respective Act II arias completely unscathed technically but both sang with compelling emotional engagement.

I hope it doesn't seem offensive to say that Jaewoo Kim's characterisation made Don Ottavio seem even more impotent than usual - Donna Anna's hesitation to commit to him was very much understandable. Unfortunately shorn of his first act "Dalla sua pace", Kim maintained firm clear tone and clear diction through what remained of his role. Former rugby player Jud Arthur's deep bass impressed as the Commendatore – closing one's eyes one could easily imagine him as the voice of vengeance calling Giovanni to hell.

The orchestra were in fine form under Wyn Davies' professional direction, the humour of Mozart's music to the fore and little woodwind touches expertly pointed. More than the vocalists, the orchestra were hobbled slightly by the ASB Theatre's relatively opaque acoustic. A mixed evening then, one more notable for the efforts of the cast than for Brodie's modern Don Giovanni concept.