by Carla Scarano D’Antonio
Attending an opera in a venue that is not a traditional theatre is always intriguing and risky. The experience can be new and unpredictable so you never know if you are going to hear and see well.
I believe that the Shire Hall at Lancaster Castle has a perfect acoustic and is also a beautiful venue, the music floating in the vault, the coats of arms like decorations of a scenery and the evening sky illuminating the interior.
Though the space for the stage is narrow and the actors or singers have to find their way among wooden stalls and stone stairs, running the risk of being unintentionally tripped up, the result can be brilliant. In fact the stage and the stall become one, the actors mix with the audience, which is consequently totally involved in the play.
This is what happened with Don Giovanni, the libertine punished (from the Spanish legend of Don Juan and a moralistic play, El Burlador the Sevilla by Tirso de Molina, penname of the Spanish monk Gabriel Téllez)a drama giocoso by W.A. Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, first performed in Prague in 1787.
The singers, Mark Saberton as Don Giovanni, Thomas Eaglen as Leporello, Serenna Wagner as Elvira, Sarah Helsby-Hughes as Donna Anna, Nicholas Sales as Don Ottavio, Elise Dye as Zerlina and Luke Thomas as Masetto, had a good Italian diction and performed a masterly execution both in singing and in acting.
It is not so common that the characters of an opera fit the appearance of the singers so well because vocal talent is usually considered more important than the physical aspect. And it is in a way. But it is also awkward for the audience to get involved in the story where a passionate hero weights a hundred kilos or a delicate bride is fifty years old or more. Everything is possible of course and it depends on the point of view.
The audience was very much involved this time both in the music and in the story. We heartily laughed when the prankster Don Giovanni played his jokes against the ‘hot’ Donna Elvira (how could she still believe in his love at the end?) or the serious, but maybe equally ‘hot’, Donna Anna, who looked for revenge for attempted rape and her father’s murder. And we horrified when we realized that our hero was also a criminal, he killed Donna Anna’s father at the beginning, and a rapist.
A complex character wonderfully depicted by Mozart’s music and da Ponte’s words, whose animal instincts (‘Mi par di sentir odor di femmina’= I think I smell a female) mix with his ‘good’ intentions of ‘comforting’ women from their boring lives…or dull husbands. On the other hand he needs women (‘Le donne son necessarie come il pane o l’aria che respiro’= women are necessary to me like bread or the air I breathe) so he can’t help but keep seducing them with the obsession of a collector and the skill of a sly old fox.
The line between what his victims want and what he forces them to do is very thin and the ambiguity of words shape each time a different perspective. After all everybody has fun with Don Giovanni and when finally they attack him and he is sent to Hell we wonder if it is a real happy ending.
‘La commedia è finita’, as Canio the clown would say, no more drama, no more fun, no more enemy to aim at. The scapegoat is gone. Life goes back to ordinary with all its dreams and nightmares.
But we had great fun for about three hours at Lancaster Castle with Heritage Opera (www.heritageopera.co.uk tel. 01772451991).
Other pieces on offer at the Castle in 2010 are Madame Butterfly ( 9th & 10th August) and Die Fledermaus (1st & 2nd November).
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