Saturday, February 25, 2012

Don Giovanni in Review

Mozart - Don Giovanni
Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Theatre, Singapore
24th Feb 2012

A Review by Hawk Liu

Whenever I would listen to any of the three Da Ponte/Mozart operas, I would tell myself to be prepared for a long haul. They are all very long operas but surprisingly, I didn't feel the length of this Don Giovanni. Tom Hawkes gave us a fairly brisk reading of the drama by having interesting stage business going on most of the time.

The production had wonderful singers in all the roles. By default, the two charactors that must stand out in the opera were of course Giovanni (Song Kee-Chang) and Leporello (Huang Rong-Hai). And that they did. They dished out a good dose of acting, humour and beautiful singing, using all the physical skills they could. Huang (Leporello) wore the clown hat well and he won the show for the amount of physical acting. Song (Giovanni) was commanding vocally and as the villain. It was a magnificent voice! On the topic of physical acting, the surprise for me was Martin Ng (Masetto). I had never thought much of the role of Masetto - not very interesting music to sing and quite the loser in the story. However, Martin showed what a good presence he had on stage with the physical acting and also the secure vocals. This was the first time I had paid any attention to any Masettos! Melvin Tan (Ottavio) did a commendable job with a role that was difficult to act - it was not the most interesting tenor role for any actor! Melvin more than made up for it by giving a wonderful rendition of Dalla sua pace, complete with difficult ornamentations in the da capo section, showing a very good leggero timbre. While still on the male singers, baritone William Lim (Commendatore) was believable and commanding in the role and vocally very firm, albeit a bit of a light weighted sound for a role that would do better with a bass.

The ladies were not undone by a male-heavy cast. Nancy Yuen (Anna) only really came to her own vocally in the second act when her voice took on a lighter quality. Here, she took away the heavier sounds and let her placement take over completely and it shone! All the Anna-Ottavio duets were magnificently sung by both singers! Ee Ping (Elvira) had a delicious creamy sound, though somewhat less bright than I expected. Elvira was the crazy woman in the opera. Obsessive of Giovanni, she did what she could to keep others from him and to keep him for herself. Although Ee sustained that in her character, I did wish for an even stronger element of being ridiculously obsessive in her behaviour. That way, I would really feel Elvira's real personality coming out! It would also make the tragedy of Giovanni's disdain for her more tragic. Zerlina was the other crazy woman who was as fickle as could be. Cherylene Liew, in the role, gave a strong vocal performance. I believe her when she was 'persuaded' by Giovanni but I needed a heavier dose of 'flirt' when she tried to win her husband back in 'batti batti'. When Masetto complained of injury in the various parts of his body, she would have won the day by kissing each of those parts!

As a dramatic piece, there were many good things - the pace was as brisk as it could go, the stage business was well set up, the actors were good physical actors. I thought the comic elements came out better that the dramatic ones in general. I am sure enough had been written about the story. What the main element was for me was how Giovanni's villainous behaviour was carried across in juxtaposition with the relation the other characters chose to have with him. Huang brought out Leporello's devotion well. Stronger obsessive behaviour from Elvira would make an even stronger case for Giovanni's punishment. Giovanni's disrespect for the Commendatore in act one and then his portrayal of fear (which was absent) in the act two confrontation  might make even more dramatic sense. Giovanni only showed fear at the point of being swallowed by hell. For me, that was too brief a punishment, visually. Dramatically, I needed Giovanni to break down emotionally during the confrontation scene and when it finally leads to hell, it would then become a climax to Giovanni's realisation of his own villainy.

The Lyric Opera Orchestra with conductor Joshua Kangming Tan did a commendable job with the music. Important for most opera performance is that voices are well balanced with the orchestra and that aspect did go very well throughout the opera! Now, though that being said, the violin and viola section sounded seriously anaemaic in the overture. And when the timpani were placed, I was sometimes convinced I was hearing a timpani concerto with no violins or violas! E strano.... e strano....

Overall, it was a wonderful production with many good things going for it. Oh did I mention it was the gala night and I was sitting just two rows from Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Long as well as the previous Singapore President, S. R. Nathan?!


  1. i thought donna elvira and the commendatore were way too lightweight for their parts (which meant the commendatore's entrance in the final act was completely flat) and donna anna's pitch was frequently wayward. also didn't appreciate the generally underpowered orchestral playing and too-brisk overture. don ottavio was excellent but unfortunately il mio tesoro was cut. stage directions were frequently messy.

    plus points: the two male leads were stunning both vocally and dramatically; donna anna had a really lovely, plush tone (when she wasn't off pitch); and the surprise was zerlina's top, top performance. i think the same singer had a small part as a gipsy (frasquita?) in SLO's carmen and thought she was excellent there too.


  2. Nothing on the staging mistakes?


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