Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Leeds University Union Opera Society, Riley Smith Hall, 2 February 2017 (review)

A receptive audience, merry from a few drinks beforehand, warmly greeted LUU Opera Society on the second night of their much anticipated production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The stakes were high: a challenging opera for the very best seasoned professionals is surely too great a feat for a bunch of students! Not so. The talented group demonstrated that they had not been intimidated by the task and set out to give the audience an evening of glitz, glamour, humour, and most importantly fantastic music.


Mozart’s great opera tells the tale of Don Giovanni (Nicholas Porter) a lecherous Casanova and his man servant Leporello (Jonny Hill) as they negotiate toe-curlingly awkward social situations in the attempt to bed yet more women. It must be acknowledged that this was no purist production; indeed, the modern English translation and setting within a 1920s mansion ensured that the opera took on an entertaining and accessible form.


The leading men Porter and Hill were convincing from the start: Porter settling into a parading swagger whilst Hill, in no way a secondary role, ensuring the humour was carried throughout the production. During the dramatic murder scene Emily Higgins (Lady Anna), swearing vengeance, showed her vocal prowess tackling some tricky passages high in the vocal range, only to surpass these later in the show with intricate melisma. No less impressive was Morgana Warren-Jones who played a thoroughly hacked off Elvira providing tangible scorn through a precise and powerful performance. Of course this was all enabled by the orchestra who, under the baton of Tim Gillies, created a solid emotional canvas on which the singers then embellished.


The performance was only marred by conditions out of the control of Opera Society. Chief among these was the audience being sat on the flat, level with the orchestra, due to limitations of the tiered seating. This undesirable positioning forced the singers on stage to compete with the sound of the orchestra, instead of simply projecting over the top. Gillies held the orchestra’s pianissimo as low as possible to remedy this and overall the singers were audible.


A modern adaptation certainly helped LUU Opera Society bring Don Giovanni to life for a contemporary audience, but it was the talent of the performers on stage and off which sealed the deal. Thoroughly entertaining and musical.


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