Perth Concert Hall
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IF English Touring Opera’s contribution to this year’s Perth Festival of the Arts is not as impressive as some of the productions of the past, it is only because the company has set the bar very high. As the name perhaps suggests, opportunities to see ETO in Scotland are rare, and this show, while well enough attended, really deserved to be packed out as their single one of the 2016 festival.
Once again, the company demonstrated what a fine opera house Perth’s adaptable hall can be, the rarely used pit pressed into service for the orchestra under Michael Rosewell, and Anna Fleischle’s clever two-tier semi-circular set – beautifully lit by Guy Hoare – sitting very nicely on the Perth stage, without the false proscenium arch.
It was a real asset in a version of Mozart and Da Ponte’s Don Juan that was narratively sure-footed, but sometimes uncertain of tone. Nicholas Lester’s arrogant libertine was a little wooden at times, and Matthew Stiff’s grumpy Leporello took a while to communicate. The Edwardian costuming is sometimes distractingly garish (particularly the frock worn by Ania Jeruc’s Donna Elvira), and Jeremy Sams’s English translation of the libretto has its clunky moments as well as those that display his familiar wit. He plays fast and loose with Leporello’s “list” aria of Giovanni’s conquest, but to distinctive effect: “It’s all recorded/However sordid.”
While played as a period piece, there were some very modern touches in the sexual references – there is a clear S&M enthusiasm in the relationship of Zerlina (Lucy Hall) and Masetto (Bradley Travis) for example – and that playfulness sat oddly with the more reprehensible predatory and abusive Don. Most damagingly there was a lack of drama in his defiance at the denouement with the resurrected Commendatore (Timothy Dawkins).
The ensemble singing, however, was of a very high standard throughout. And I was not alone in particularly appreciating the tenor voice of Robyn Lyn Evans (as Don Ottavio), if the applause that greeted his Act 2 aria is any guide.
Only the somewhat brash tone of the electronic harpsichord for the continuo (a touring practicality I suspect) marred the instrumental accompaniment, in a show that again proved that the highest production values are achievable on the budget of a touring opera company.