Nevill Holt’s Don Giovanni embraces folk beliefs in a personification of lust

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Nevill Holt Opera 2021 [2] – Mozart, Don Giovanni: Soloists, Chorus and Shadwell Ensemble / Finnegan Downie Dear (conductor). Nevill Holt, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, 19.8.2021. (CP)

Dingle Yandell (Commendatore) (c) Lloyd Winters

DirectorJack Furness
DesignerAlex Berry
Movement director – Jenny Ogilvie
Sound designerMark Rogers

Leporello Nicholas Crawley
Donna AnnaAnna Patalong
Don Giovanni – Seán Boylan
Commendatore – Dingle Yandell
Don Ottavio – Joshua Owen Mills
Donna Elvira – Aoife Miskelly
Zerlina – Olivia Warburton
Masetto – Benedict Nelson

As smoke billowed into the night air from a burning straw man, the disgraced Don Giovanni’s relationship with his guilty partner, Leporello, came to an end. And so, ends a lifetime’s devotion to womanising. With this very believable outcome, Nevill Holt’s remarkable production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni ends what has proven to be the bravest of outdoor country opera seasons in 2021. Director Jack Furness has worked wonders with a vast green mound in the middle of Leicestershire’s finest countryside. Full of trap doors and graves, it took some ingenious thinking by Alex Berry (designer) and Jenny Ogilvie (movement director) to fill its many square metres. Seldom has an audience witnessed so much activity both on and off stage as that conjured up by Ogilvie, with village peasants, farm labourers et al. involved in rants, celebrations and traditional folk adventures. Nobody would have been surprised if, at any moment, the local Morris Group had put in an appearance; a fire-eater does!

Nevill Holt Opera’s Don Giovanni (c) Lloyd Winters

An 18-metre dome provides the backdrop to the vast mound. Taking ownership of this dome and filling it is the very hardworking Shadwell Ensemble, originally a product of London’s East End, now deserving the plaudits as a ‘united nations’ orchestra, for they represent so many countries across the world. Conductor Finnegan Downie Dear, showed the patience of Job as soloists lingered elsewhere and arrived late for their entries, much to the amusement of the audience, Downie Dear taking it all in his stride. The brass section, too, coped with the late arrivals of colleagues with an enthusiastic overture in the stormy key of D minor, used again in Act II with the ghostly appearance of Commendatore. Combining with very clever use of technology by Royal Opera House skilled sound engineers, the Ensemble gave the soloists the utmost support, with the sound following the singers rather than relying on feeds through speakers.

Maypole dancing fills the vast mound during the overture before Leporello’s (Nicholas Crawley) first attempt at sentry duty permits Giovanni (Seán Boylan) to continue his illicit activities elsewhere on the mound. They perform as a contrasting pair of rogues; Giovanni, the licentious scoundrel and Leporello seeking respectability as the moral and ethical voice of reason. Both enjoy themselves in their differing roles, Boylan performs enthusiastically with the seductive spell of the scion of a wealthy aristocrat. He is a fine baritone, having gained valuable experience whilst covering the role at Garsington in 2019. Crawley brings more experience to the role with ROH, English National Opera and Komische Oper Berlin in roles as Naval Captain in Manon Lescaut, and Masetto in Don Giovanni.

His control of his rich bass-baritone voice is one of many highlights of the contributions from this strong cast assembled by Furness. Earlier this season, Anna Patalong appeared as Fiordiligi in Longborough’s Big Top production of Così fan tutte (review click here); she seemed much more comfortable here as the wronged Donna Anna, singing very confidently, bound up in the anguish of unrequited love; a powerful contribution to the drama built on her pertinent acting reacting to the death of her father, the Commendatore.

Wedding guests fill the grassy mound for the nuptial celebrations of Masetto (Benedict Wilson) and Zerlina (Olivia Warburton). Wilson is well cast in this role as the jealous, protective suitor. His winning duet with Warburton, which rebuilds their courtship following a dreadful spat, was memorable, her singing is full of natural vulnerability.

Adjacent to the 18-metre dome is Nic Fiddian-Green’s wonderful sculpture of a horse’s head. After the interval a full-sized bronze horse takes centre mound and oversees the disguises and the deceptions by both Giovanni and Leporello. Donna Elvira (Aoife Miskelly), Giovanni’s former lover, stars as she seeks to rebuild their relationship. Her pitch is solid and she is particularly effective in the more mellifluous moments of Act II. Two mountings happen quickly; the first by Zerlina of Masetto, the second of the bronze horse by the ghost of Commendatore (Dingle Yandell) who presents a powerful admonishment to the lifestyle of those who have offended. The dialogue associated with the Zerlina mounting is unprintable!

The mound becomes increasingly populated by courtiers and selected villagers as the tension heightens with the ghost’s arrival; relay running, torch lighting with stumbling villagers and finally the setting fire of the straw man to warn of the fate that will await all such libertines. And the weather remained suitably threatening.

Clive Peacock

For more about Nevill Holt Opera click here.

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