MOZART'S DON GIOVANNI / Singapore Lyric Opera / Review

Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Theatre
Saturday (25 February 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 27 February 2o12 with the title "Don of a new age".

Considering that Don Giovanni is widely regarded as Mozart’s greatest opera, it comes as some surprise that the Singapore Lyric Opera had waited some 20 years to stage it. This may be due to the fact that there had been two previous productions in Singapore during the late 1980s and mid-1990s by groups from Britain and Hungary. This, the first featuring all Asian voices, however has much to recommend.

First, veteran director Tom Hawkes does not tamper with the story or setting as a tragicomedy and morality tale, instead allowing the relationships between the characters to be clearly defined. The two lead baritones, Song Kee Chang’s Don Giovanni and Huang Rong Hai’s Leporello, shared a marvellous chemistry together as master and serf (above). Huang’s comical mix of hero-worship and contempt for the Don was well characterised, as was Song’s nonchalant and callous way with women.

The excellent supporting cast was completely Singaporean, now achievable because a critical mass of experienced and young local opera singers exists today. Rising to the fore was soprano Cherylene Liew’s sympathetic portrayal of purity and goodness in the role of Zerlina (above). Her two arias Batti batti, Vedrai carino and the famous duet La ci darem la mano with the Don call to notice an impressive new talent.

But why was tenor Melvin Tan’s believable Don Ottavio denied his few minutes in the limelight of Il mio tesoro? Its excision to keep the show under three hours (the final curtain came down one minute before eleven) seemed cruel. He and relative veterans Nancy Yuen (Donna Anna), Yee Ee Ping (Donna Elvira), William Lim (The Commendatore), Martin Ng (Masetto) and the dependable SLO Orchestra conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan provided a firm bedrock to the proceedings.

Unlike the two previous productions which barely had sets to speak of, Christopher Chua’s backdrops were effective and simple, with an emphasis on stone that seemed to pre-empt the arrival of the stone guest for the final dinner scene. The Don’s fire and brimstone comeuppance, a rare scene with three low male voices (below) and an opportunity for special stage effects, however seemed a tad underwhelming.

With the unrepentant philanderer safely dispatched to Hades, the final sextet was a joyous denouement but was the descending image of a crucified Jesus Christ’s head appropriate? Surely this sent mixed signals about sin, recalcitrance and eternal damnation. Or had the Don made yet another one of his audacious escapes?

This production of Don Giovanni plays at Esplanade Theatre 8 pm this evening (Monday 27 February) and runs till tomorrow (Tuesday 28 February).