Arriving in the once-regal surroundings of the Mayfair Theatre, we are greeted by waves of people out for a night of magical music and entertainment (we are not to be disappointed). The house is packed. Viewing is slightly restricted, but the atmosphere is intimate and cosy. As the curtain rises, the audience is drawn into the world of Don Giovanni.
The Mayfair itself feels careworn, given recent events in the local Dunedin theatre scene. With the Dunedin performing arts review about to begin, it is important that the role of Opera Otago and the Mayfair Theatre Trust is adequately supported and protected in the years to come.
The setting is Dunedin, 2018. Don Giovanni (Robert Tucker) is a lecherous drunk, obsessed with womanising and addicted to Viagra. Tucker’s delivery is confident and masterful; he epitomises the part. Unwillingly enabled by his assistant Lee Porello (Adam Jon), Don Giovanni sets about a pattern of serial misogyny and sexual assault. Jon provides excellent characterisation, whilst also maintaining his integrity in a role that recognises the rainbow community.
Don Giovanni’s victims are powerfully delivered to the audience, expressing the strength of their characters in the face of the protagonist’s evil. Donna Anna (Ingrid Fomison-Nurse), Donna Elvira (Olivia Pike) and Zerlina (Josephine Chan) are superb in their portrayals as in their rich, impeccable delivery of Mozart’s arias.
Scott Bezett (Masetto), Ben Madden (Dion Ottavio) and Robert Lindsay (The Commander) contribute stellar performances. Bezett’s rendition of Masetto as a surly working class man is superb. Madden’s vocals are a perfect pairing with those of Ingrid Fomison-Nurse, lighting up the room with their harmonisation.
The penultimate scene portraying Don Giovanni’s descent into hell is masterfully delivered by both Tucker and Lindsay. Lighting and special effects are used to build the drama of the scene, but could have been taken further to create greater impact around Lindsay’s delivery of the ghost who condemns Don Giovanni to the underworld.
The small but talented chorus provides a beautiful choral backdrop. Despite the intimate cast, dazzling harmonies come in waves, drawing you in, pulling you under and away, stealing your breath and filling you up.
With nods to Dunedin’s drinking culture evident, some further unravelling of this as a social ill may be beneficial. Nevertheless, this Don Giovanni is a brave exploration of current social issues relating to sexual assault in New Zealand, which is amongst the highest in the western world (Ruth Gammon, 2016). I highly commend the production team for courageously tackling this subject and their creative insight in the production of a classical opera that addresses such an important issue in our contemporary society.
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