Friday, November 1st
To Covent Garden, for the opera.
Opera Vera performing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera buffa Don Giovanni by at the Actor's Church, to be precise.
I am no opera buff, and no music critic, but I have seen Don Giovanni before, in a proper opera house (I shan't say which) and it wasn't a patch on this. The last piece of classic theatre I saw in a church was an unsatisfactory Much Ado which I couldn't hear at all. This, I could hear very well indeed. Performed by a cast of eight, all was clarity, charm and horror. Da Ponte and Mozart together examine or rather expose all sorts of different kinds of love, from the sexual greed of Don G. himself (James McOran-Campbell, perfectly swaggering) through the rather touching, yearning, selfless love of Don Ottavio (Alexander Anderson-Hall) to the hopeless love of Donna Elvira. There is perhaps even a kind of odd love between Leporello (Peter Brooke, enjoying himself tremendously) and his master Don Giovanni - it is certainly the most intimate of the relationships. Zerlina (Rebeccca Dale), young and flighty, has her head turned one way and then another and then back again, and finally returns to the forgiving Masetto (Nicolas Dwyer). Donna Anna (Stefanie Kemball-Read) has a quite different kind of love altogether, the love of her father fuelling her desire for vengeance. There is one particular sequence in the opera that illustrates, for me, the kind of contradistinction that drives the drama: Donna Anna's aria, 'Or sai chi l'onore', expresses in words and music all her love for her father, all her horror at his death and all her desire for vengeance. Poor Don Ottavio, her betrothed, is left alone to sing his own response, the unspeakably gentle and sweet 'Dalla sua pace', in which all his focus is on Donna Anna. His pain is quite different from hers. It is almost impossible to stop the gulp of emotion the song provokes.
Opera Vera have several extremely winning aspects. The small orchestra (actually, the Brillig Ensemble) has a kind of rugged oomph (technical stuff, this, I know) that suggests it is enjoying itself rather than going through the paces. I imagine we have not only the players but also the musical director, Philip Hesketh, to thank for this. Especially enjoyable here was the substitution of accordion for mandolin in Don G's serenade. Repetiteur (the person who plays the keyboard during the recitative bits) was so good I hardly noticed her (if you follow me). Her name is Laila Barnat. The singers are all good actors, and excellently directed by Nina Brazier, making good use of the church pulpit and not afraid to have her singers running up and down the aisles, even at one point singing from the gallery beside the organ. The whole was inventive without being clever, full of motion without sacrificing musical fidelity, and altogether an utter delight. This is exactly as opera should be: nothing pious, no sense of it being good for the moral fibre, no ticking of cultural boxes, but rather the witnessing of an exploration of love and sex and human relationships couched and expressed in some of the greatest music ever written, and as a consequence hugely pleasurable. A glass or two of wine (in a real glass) did no harm. I understand Leporello, in the guise of Peter Brooke, produced the whole darn shebang, so many thanks to him and congratulations.
I have neglected to mention Will Kwiatkowski as the Commendatore who nodded his head very well, like this. And was thoroughly Commendatorial in all respects.
As no comment is entierly believable without a cavil I mention only the perhaps over-facetious translation of Da Ponte's libretto. More faithfully poetic translations are available - but hey, this is a cavil, and I've no doubt others enjoyed the modded up version.
Opera Vera have a website: www.operavera.co.uk Go and see if you have the chance.