Don Giovanni by Welsh National Opera at The Mayflower Theatre

11th May 2022

Don Giovanni is an opera in two acts composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with the Italian libretto written by Lorenzo da Ponte.

It is based on Tirso de Molina’s best known play ‘El Burlador de Sevilla’ (The Trickster of Seville) for which he took his inspiration from the popular legend of Don Juan, the fictitious libertine.

The themes are manyfold - lust, love, betrayal, deceit, vengeance, death, grief - but there is also a window into the attitudes of people and status at that time.

The story is, in essence, pretty straightforward to follow, particularly due to the English subtitles above the stage.

Don Giovanni is a serial womaniser who is proud of his 1800 sexual exploits and is keen to add to his catalogue of conquests.

The first act begins with Leporello, Don Giovanni’s servant keeping watch outside an ornate palace.

We then see Don Giovanni in a masked disguise climbing down a ladder from the balcony having attempted to rape the Commendatore’s daughter, Donna Anna.

She has managed to break free from Don Giovanni and pursues him. Her awakened father challenges Don Giovanni to a duel but he is killed.

Donna Anna is grief stricken and she and her fiancé, Ottavio, swear vengeance.

The following morning, whilst out with Leporello, Don Giovanni catches the scent of a woman who turns out to be Donna Elvira, the wife he has abandoned. Meeta Raval sang a impassioned aria about how her husband had left Burgos and abandoned her.

She is fuelled with rage and contempt. Leporello tells her that she is not the first and will not be the last of Don Giovanni’s victims.

He continues to show her his master’s heavy catalogue of conquests and that he has seduced, “women of every rank, every shape and every age.”

The third part of the plot is sown when Don Giovanni is walking back to his palace with Leporello.

They witness a bride, Zerlina, and her groom, Masetto, celebrate their wedding in the country. Don Giovanni declares that Zerlina is destined for a different life, not one of a peasant.

He is hell bent on seducing her and therefore sends the wedding party to his palace where they will be wined and dined, including Masetto.

The seeds of his downfall have been set.

On hearing the dramatic opening notes of the overture you are aware that this tale is not going to end well.

The overture is also intersperse with moments of intrigue and the effect of a storm brewing but also has more lyrical moments.

Leporello, played by the charismatic Joshua Bloom, also brings comedy moments, particularly when disguised as Don Giovanni and is ordered by his master to try and change Elvira’s opinion of him.

One of my favourite but also most disturbing moments was when Don Giovanni sings to Elvira’s maid accompanied by an ominous monk-like statue playing the lute. This, for me, was the first sign of Don Giovanni’s journey to doom.

I am always fascinated by the creative use of set in productions. The outdoor wall and large stone carved double doors of the Commendatore’s palace are used throughout in sections to signify the cemetery, the grounds of Don Giovanni’s house, a ballroom and other scenes.

Due to the harsh stone effect and sharp edges of the set and the lack of any greenery or flowers, the lighting gave a welcoming glow to the stage; particularly memorable was the ballroom scene which was flooded with gold to convey candlelight.

The lighting also complemented the deep chocolate browns, golds and other earthy colours of the costumes.

I was struck by the fact that Don Giovanni is dressed in white with a white feather in his hat - this is referred to in the libretto.

I had assumed he would be in black, red, green, perhaps, but white can signify many things - innocence, purity - certainly not in Don Giovanni’s case - but it can also represent sacrifice.

At the end of the play we see Don Giovanni dragged through double doors to hell by the statue of the Commendatore after he refuses to repent.

This was certainly a dark piece in the opera, a red light within the doors flickering to represent the flames of hell whilst the doors move backwards with the rogue within.

In my view, this would have been a good place to end the story - after all Donna Anna, Elvira and Zerlina have their revenge - but instead Mozart decides to end on an uplifting piece where the main characters sing about their future plans.

I must also give a huge mention to the incredible Welsh National Opera Orchestra who played for nearly three hours and the wonderful chorus.

Jenny Rainbird

The WNO is at the Mayflower until May 14th with performances of Don Giovanni and Madame Butterfly.