Wayward Don wins the hearts of music lovers

A colourful assembly gathered in a gracious garden to witness justice being done. There were gentlemen in powdered wigs, ladies in dramatic gowns and masks, some comic, a couple sinister, others rather beautiful. And this was only the audience.

Opera a la Carte's lively production of Mozart's Don Giovanni took the stage in Loughcrew Historic Gardens, Oldcastle, Co Meath, at the weekend. The expressive ensemble cast, collectively celebrating in fine voice, played the subversive masterpiece to maximum comic effect with a physical flair just short of the Marx Brothers in full flight. No one ended up feeling sorry for the wayward Don, and as for the wronged Donna Elvira, sung majestically by US soprano Katie Van Kooten, she was angry with her faithless lover but she would survive.

Even the capricious July weather decided to co-operate on Saturday evening as the sunlight drifted gently through the semi-transparent roof of the large tent. The opera-goers had arrived, many for the fifth year, with sufficient amounts of picnic supplies to sustain a minor military campaign.

In the age of convenience eating, stylish eating and impressive attention to detail triumphed as good glassware, linen and some of the family silver, all elegantly packed into classic picnic baskets, emerged among the ancient Yew trees. Some parties favoured tables; others opted for an understated rug neatly spread upon the grass. Old world manners returned in force to a part of Co Meath. No one was overly concerned about the middle-aged man, who with the petulance of a teenager dragged away from the television, demanded of his female companion: "Am I going to be bored out of my mind? I don't know any Latin."

Smiling the smile of a practising psychiatrist, she whispered "Relax. It's in Italian." His sulk became darker. "I don't speak Italian."

Long before the audience began to fill the tent, the walls of which had been vividly decorated with Michael Dillon's thematic paintings, there was drama: a woman spilt wine on her gown. Her friends rushed to assist her. It was as if a death was in the making. But the dress - and the lady's evening - as well as that of her friends - was saved. Meanwhile, Don Giovanni lurked off stage like a giant long-haired teenager, waiting for the fun to begin.

True the Don, played by Michael Dewis, proved a likeable cad, a bit too much of a lad on the rampage to be taken seriously as a ruthless serial seducer. With a disarming grin to match his attractive baritone, this was an absent-minded, engaging Giovanni inspired by Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.

More good natured than defiant, he had a good time and was well supported by his servant, Jochem Van Ast's wonderful, suitably rebellious Leporello. The fact that Don Giovanni actually managed to kill the old Commendatore was quite an achievement. As Katri Paukkunen's ethereal Donna Anna, intent on avenging her father and her own violation, sang movingly of her dilemma, members of the audience watched a stoic man endure as the feathers of his companion's hat repeatedly obscured his view of the on-stage action.

Once described by E.T.A. Hoffmann as "the opera of all operas" and a long established favourite of sing along status, Don Giovanni which was first performed in 1787, remains fresh. Opera a la Carte's artistic director, Nicholas Heath was certainly striving for the light, earthy comedy of Amadeus. The music as always carried the evening, five musicians led by Rosalind Jones on piano deputised for the usual orchestra.

Don Giovanni has its share of Mozart's greatest hits, especially among the duets. As for the wrongs, well this time Don Giovanni got off lightly. Instead of eternal damnation for his appalling behaviour, he suffered mere humiliation and what promised to be the messy aftermath of a lengthy binge. The delighted audience departed, humming Mozart's tunes. The composer would have approved.

Eileen Battersby
Irish Times


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