Opera magazine

Opera magazine November 2004

Giuseppe Gazzaniga's one-act dramma giocoso has had a surprising number of productions and recordings since the 1974 publication of Stefan Kunze's new edition. First performed in Venice in 1787, eight months before Mozart's and Da Ponte's version in Prague, Gazzaniga's opera has a plot that, in Giovanni Bertati's libretto, is almost identical to Da Ponte's. The main differences are that Donna Anna goes into a convent striaght after the murder of the Commendatore, and that there are two subsidiary characters, Donna Ximena, an amorous lady to add to Giovanni's catalogue, and Lanterna, a comic manservant who features prominently in the supper scene.

The opera was sung in a translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray, the artistic directors of Bampton opera, and had already been performed in August at Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire. Even in the sometimes difficult acoustics of St John's the words came across clearly - it helps, of course, when the story is so familiar. Daniel Norman was a suave, tenor Giovanni. The costumes were vaguely 1970s, Giovanni in a white suit, Pasquariello (Mark Saberton), the Leporello character, in a black shirt and braces. His catalogue aria, sung with the aid of a plastic globe, develops into a duet with Donna Elvira (Sarah Redgwick), who becomes very much the leading lady; one of the highlights of the evening was her duet with Maturina, the Zerlina figure, when they exchange insults, having been brought together by Giovanni, each supposing the other to be a madwoman in pursuit of him. Rebecca Bottone as Maturina also did well in her seduction aria - in this case it is she who goes after Giovanni. Apart from a couple of slightly piercing high notes, this was a performance of considerable confidence. Nicholas Merryweather doubled as the Commendatore and Biagio (i.e. Masetto). His big aria, the equivalent of 'Ho capito', brought the most effective singing of the evening. Huw Rhys-Evans made Ottavio a positive character. Helen Semple was a Donna Anna obviously not quite sure which she regretted most, her father's death or the fact that Giovanni escaped from her. Cheryl Enever as Ximena and Christopher Bowen as Lanterna made the most of their brief contributions.

Jason Lai led a spirited performance , with the London Mozart Players producing a fine sound in the suites from Gluck's incidental music for Don Juan which served as curtain-raisers. The best of Gazzaniga's opera comes in the scenes that are furthest from Mozart's version: the two-soprano duet; the drinking trio for Giovanni and his servants in which they toast Venice, and then the jolly finale, after the Stone Guest has done his work. Gazzaniga composed more than 50 other operas, but it is his fate to be for ever associated with this one - and all because Da Ponte lifted most of Bertati's libretto for his own, admittedly lofty purpose.

Patrick O'Connor