Review: Don Giovanni at the Grand Opera House, Belfast

In a packed Grand Opera House, an enthusiastic audience witnessed a psychologically acute reading of Mozart's exploration of the darker side of love 

MODERN dress adaptations of opera sometimes raise eyebrows and rile traditionalists but Oliver Mears' swan song production of Don Giovanni for Northern Ireland Opera at the Grand Opera House was a triumph.

National critics crowded the theatre to assess this director's quality as Mr Mears has been poached by the Royal Opera House in London.

In a packed house, an enthusiastic audience witnessed a psychologically acute reading of Mozart's exploration of the darker side of love.

It's an opera buffa, ie a comic piece, although very bleak in its account of a self-obsessed man who is maybe what we might call today a sex addict.

The scene where his unhappy servant and sidekick Leporello (the dark voiced, brilliant John Molloy)turns the pages of the Don's not so little black book - Spaniards, 1003 - was very well done.

Annemarie Woods' set featured a luxury 1930s or 1940s liner and we saw a row of doors to cabins with Feydeau farce possibilities which were fully exploited. 

In terms of arias, the staging of possibly one of the world's greatest love songs, La Ci Darem La Mano, was bold and successful.

Henk Neven's Don Giovanni sang the sublime lyrical phrases to his next conquest, a new bride, as a rock star or crooner complete with mike action. It worked as it revealed the narcissism of the character but maybe we lost a little beauty.

Not vocally, though, as Mr Neven, a noted recitalist, delivered Mozart's harmonies with musical attention.

Mears is an embryonic Peter Sellars, the American opera director known for boldly thinking outside any given envelope.

So we got some great orgy scenes, with Derek Jarman style parades of saucy characters, one looking like a burger with legs.

The finale, when the seducer is called to judgement by the Commendatore, the father of the girl he raped, in a scene based on supernatural intervention, involved a swimming pool, turquoise Speedos, some fine acting and singing and movement.

The only tiny note of potential bathos came via a hairdryer and our anti-hero's death as the electrical gadget hit the H20.

Yet as Don Giovanni sizzled, it was somehow appropriate. For the point of this modern eighteenth century opera is that it is all about him, the man who can't see beyond the notch on the bed post and who ultimately loses out.

There were glorious musical interludes from Donna Anna (Hye-Youn Lee) whose apology to her faithful swain Don Ottavio (Sam Furness) for not consummating their relationship because of grief was very moving.

And Don Ottavio's touching aria about wanting his other half to be content - "When you are happy, I am in heaven" in Amanda Holden's excellent English translation) was gloriously delivered and applauded.

One tiny innovation, Zerlina's pregnancy, was interesting but a distraction.

Having said that, anybody interested in love and the greatest music ever written should enjoy this Don Giovanni.

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