Review: Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' performed by Welsh National Opera at the Hippodrome | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ performed by Welsh National Opera at the Hippodrome

Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh reviews the Welsh National Opera's 'memorable' production of Mozart's Don Giovanni.

The Welsh National Opera’s production of Don Giovanni is part of the company’s ‘Rabble Rousers’ season, which also includes Verdi’s La forza del destino and Puccini’s Tosca. The WNO were performing all three of these operas across three nights at the Birmingham Hippodrome, and Wednesday evening brought the turn of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Based on the story of the libertine figure, Don Juan, and set during the Spanish Golden Age, we may think of this as a mannered period piece. But with the prominence of the Time’s Up campaign in recent months, this tale of the domineering Don Giovanni who has seduced thousands of women using his wealth and status, has a decidedly modern resonance. Don Giovanni moves from lover to lover, with no feeling of guilt or remorse.  He even maintains ‘a list of conquests’. But his luck runs out when one of his liaisons ends in murder. Forced to go on the run with his loyal and faithful servant Leporello, he is chased by spurned lovers including Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and even a supernatural force. Yet, he remains defiantly unapologetic. Such arrogance secures his downfall, and as vengeful figures circle in on Don Giovanni, his demise is assured.

'This tale of the domineering Don Giovanni...has a decidedly modern resonance....this salutary tale of sexual obsession ensures that the victims have a powerful voice...'

Don Giovanni is a raucous and ridiculous figure, with a seemingly insatiable desire for women. The troubling libertine was excellently portrayed by Gavan Ring, who captured his character’s malice and menace. His ability to be cruel was emphasised by his duplicitous serenading and constant lying about his motives. His villainy even included an evil cackle. His performance powerfully demonstrated the horrific potential of a man of authority and means abusing those around him.

Don Giovanni’s grotesque abuse of women was met with the female characters’ demonstration of defiance and unity. Donna Anna, passionately portrayed by Meeta Raval, is determined to seek revenge for her father’s death, and she emotively recounts how she fought off Don Giovanni’s advances. Donna Elvira, who was well realised by Elizabeth Watts, explored how complex the emotions are of those who have been abused and misled. It was reassuring and uplifting to see the loving loyalty and support in Donna Anna’s fiancé Don Ottavio (Benjamin Hulett), and the caring and sensual love of the newly wed Masetto and Zerlina (Gareth Brynmor John and Katie Bray).

A real treat of the evening was the live orchestra, conducted by James Southall which brought a real vitality to the performance.  Beautifully sung in Italian, with the effortless interweaving of melodies, the English surtitles were particularly helpful in ensuring the audience understood both the detail of the narrative and nuances of the playful libretto. Mozart’s score ingeniously captures both moments of tragedy, including the stunning contemplative arias of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, as well as the much-needed comic episodes. One of the highlights of the evening was the ‘Catalogue’ aria, which detailed Giovanni’s list of 2065 lovers and his ludicrous, season-changing preferences. This aria was performed by Leporello, who was fantastically brought to life by David Stout. His entertaining performance, with brilliant comic timing and facial expressions, ensured that there was light relief from the darker themes explored throughout the evening.

'A great live orchestra, beautiful vocal performances and a stunning set and costumes all contribute to a memorable production...'

The costumes, designed by John Napier and Yoon Bae, were memorable and had a Goyaesque quality. In stark contrast to the cowled monks and cloaked aristocrats, Don Giovanni strutted around the stage in a white hat and coat, complete with gold lining and white and red feathers. The use of gold, beiges and creams contrasted well against the brooding darkness. Also designed by John Napier, the dark sculptural set, inspired by Rodin’s sculptures, contained severed limbs and anguished human faces as well as skulls, which cleverly moved to create new spaces on stage. The dramatic set was particularly effective as the opera reached its dramatic finale. Don Giovanni is finally captured and consumed by the encroaching gateways, complete with the flames and fumes of Hell.

This salutary tale of sexual obsession ensures that the victims have a powerful voice. Through their collective courage and action they obtain revenge and Don Giovanni gets his come-uppance. A great live orchestra, beautiful vocal performances and a stunning set and costumes all contribute to a memorable production.

For more information on this production, or on that of Tosca, performed at the Hippodrome on Thursday 8th of March, click here.

Second year English student.


8th March 2018 at 4:18 pm

Images from

Richard Hubert Smith and Welsh National Opera