Opera Japonica

Opera Japonica website, October 2004

A more obscure rendering of the story of Don Giovanni, by Giuseppe Gazzaniga, provided a contrast of sorts when Bampton Classical Opera paid their annual visit to St John’s, Smith Square. Written in 1787, the same year as Mozart’s opera, the work is full of startling parallels with the better-known work. At the beginning and at various points throughout, Giovanni Bertati’s libretto mirrors da Ponte’s almost line for line; there has been much speculation that da Ponte may have had sight of Bertati’s libretto at some point.

Musically there are also parallels. The entrance of the peasants for their wedding party seems only too familiar, as does the voice of the Commendatore’s statue and the wind band during the supper scene. Nevertheless, this opera has nothing even approaching the complexity or depth of Mozart’s, and its running time (less than two hours, including an interval) is testament to the fact that Gazzaniga and Bertati deal with a far simpler plot.

Other than Don Giovanni himself, the voice types are much the same as for the Mozart opera. The Don is a tenor, and was sung here by Daniel Norman, who was possibly not as vocally charismatic as one might have hoped. A strong collection of bright-voiced young sopranos made up the Don’s lovers and conquests; Sarah Redgwick was secure in Donna Elvira’s demanding arias, while Rebecca Bottone displayed some dazzling vocal acrobatics as Maturina, the Zerlina character. Donna Anna - a small role - was ably sung by Helen Semple, and Cheryl Enever was sweet-toned in the ‘additional’ role of Donna Ximena. Mark Saberton sang securely and supplied most of the laughs as Pasquariello (a k a Leporello) while Nicholas Merryweather proved perfectly capable of doubling as Biagio (a k a Masetto) and the Commendatore.

As the piece lacks an overture, some music from Gluck’s ballet, Don Juan, was used at the start of each act. The style was slightly incongruous but I suspect it would have been stranger without it. Conductor Jason Lai paced the performance well. The lasting impression was that this is a somewhat simplistic work, very well performed.

Ruth Elleson