Mozart: Don Giovanni at Royal Opera of Versailles | Live Review
Wednesday, November 22, 2023
Marshall Pynkoski vibrant production of Mozart's 1778 opera, though traditional in elements, produced a rare spectacle of comedy and drama
The cast of Don Giovanni at Royal Opera of Versailles | Photo: Ian Rice
Don Giovanni presents directors with the question of whether this work is a sinister story about the pitfalls of desire, an examination of predatory behaviour, or an exploration of the consequences of our actions. Whilst these themes are, and must be, explored in opera, director Marshall Pynkoski chose a classic approach for his Royal Opera of Versailles’ 2023 production - a reminder that it was written as a comedy, about a man who has allegedly bedded over 2000 women, who cannot seem to land a single one in the two and a half hours of the opera. This vibrant production wittily moved through the misadventure, where every single character is utterly delusional, entirely dishonest and has a terrible sense of judgement.
The entire stage bounced into life immediately, with Gaétan Jarry’s energy from the podium creating a bright, stirring sound from the orchestra of period instruments, and the dancers, deftly choreographed by Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg, gave a sense of movement and grace, which carried throughout. The use of classic gesture and the dynamic contrast of the costuming fitted neatly with the Commedia Dell'arte style, particularly in Riccardo Novaro’s portrayal of the bungling Harlequin, Leporello. Robert Gleadow made his role debut as Don Giovanni, and was every part the self-serving libertine, singing voraciously without being overblown, with dramatic and vocal confidence. The critical scene, the murder of the Commendatore, signalled the full flight from reality with melodrama, enhanced with Florie Valiquette’s gracefully sung Donna Anna and Enguerrand de Hys’ Don Ottavio. Though still in the realm of Opera Buffa, they were not without sincerity, as Hys’ Dalla Sua Pace showed a level of devotion that was spun exquisitely, and gave the character a strength that is usually missed.
Arianna Vendittelli as Donna Elivra and Enguerrand de Hys as Don Ottavio | Photo: Ian Rice
As we continued through the Don’s escapades, Éléonore Pancrazi’s Zerlina became a scene stealer, through a comfortable and clear embodiment of the coquette, with questionable decision making skills. Her slick ‘Batti Batti’ showed the flexibility and strength of her voice, and her fully committed acting abilities created a chemistry with Masetto, where anyone could imagine forgiving any misdeed she may have committed. Masetto made equally strong choices, with stalwart characterisation and vocalism.
Arianna Vendittelli carried the drama of Donna Elivra with ease, a knife in one hand, and a crucifix in the other, portraying her duality: protecting the women from Don Giovanni’s tricks, trying to convince people of his sins - and still willing to risk it all for him. Even in the most challenging coloratura of Mi Tradi she had a knifelike precision, and the height of her voice bloomed effortlessly. In the party scenes the direction was clear and deliberate, making use of Roland Fontaine’s set design, detailed with a palace facade, balconies and French doors, and the vocal power of the cast as a whole.
The cast of Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera of Versailles | Photo: Ian Rice
Most excitingly, the supernatural elements were thrillingly done with Hervé Gary’s lighting and visual effects. Nicolas Certenais’ return as the Commendatore had a chilling atmosphere, a composed juxtaposition for Gleadow’s unbridled descent into madness. Their final duet was alive with tension, and showed no signs of fatigue. The use of projections, a billowing sheet and Gleason’s screams created a descent into hell that was visually overwhelming, and suitably dramatic.
The production was thoroughly entertaining, the timing, believability and attention to detail in every movement allowed for every comedic moment to be drawn to our attention. Each player utilised each curve and inflection of the text to advance the drama, and never fell into the trap of a traditional production becoming a singing-by-numbers, predictable rendition of the work.