13 Oct 2014

Opera's anti-hero seduces Wellington

8:25 am on 13 October 2014

Here for a good time, not a long time, that was loosely the motto of hedonistic womaniser, Don Giovanni, the opera's greatest anti-hero.

Don Giovanni

Photo: New Zealand Opera

Don Giovanni, was performed by New Zealand Opera in Auckland last month and now it is Wellington's turn.

The popular two act opera written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was first performed in October 1787.

The story of the world's greatest seducer, better known under his original Spanish name, Don Juan, is a sordid tale, as Giovanni will stop at nothing - even murder - in his pursuit of female pleasure, but with disastrous results.

British baritone Mark Stone worked in the sometimes dirty world of investment banking before he discovered his voice and his love for the role of Don Giovanni, which he has played on three other occasions.

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Photo: New Zealand Opera

But think again if you believe his life is anything like the Don's.

"We all like to play out our fantasies on stage, as murderers or being killed. In this case I get to inflict myself on the women I share the stage with."

"But I'm happily married, even when I'm away from home, I am definitely not Don Juan in real life", he said.

Don Giovanni the character is a risk taker, but so is the show's director, Sara Brodie, who brought the opera into 21st century Spain rather than stick to the traditional 230-year-old version.

The set and props are modern, in one scene featuring a large anarchy sign on a nightclub building, which ironically is called Libertinos, to symbolise Giovanni's carefree lifestyle.

It is a place where the champagne is flowing, there is sleazy sexual innuendo, pole dancers, guns and even a hint of illegal drugs being used.

Ms Brodie agrees that she took a gamble, but said that was not uncommon with this opera.

"A work like Don Giovanni which has stood the test of time is universal, it's similar to performing Shakespeare which is modernised all the time."

"Don Giovanni is a masterpiece and it is commonly updated in Europe when performed," she said.

Don Giovanni

Photo: New Zealand Opera

Napier born, Anna Leese plays the role of prim and proper Donna Elvira, who is also caught by the charm of Don Giovanni, and his roving eye.

She wants to win over the Don, but he has other plans, that are far from long term.

In Italy, where Ms Leese lives, she said men were a far cry from shy with some similar characters to the opera very much alive and well there.

"If you walk down a street in England, men on building sites will wolf whistle. In New Zealand they'll do their best to ignore you because that is the polite thing to do."

"But in Italy men will openly stare at you. When they get to retirement age, many men will sit outside a cafe and dream the day away watching women walk by," she said.

Australian Robert Tucker plays the show's so-called bogan, Masetto, who is on occasion armed with a baseball bat and pistol.

The hot-headed Masetto loathes Don Giovanni, as Giovanni also has eyes for his fiancé, Zerlina.

Tucker has played the role before but says the modern version of the opera is much more satisfying to perform in.

"I think audiences want to be challenged. They want to see something different, otherwise they'd just get a DVD out and watch the original version at home, rather than come to the show," he said.

While the original ending sends Don Giovanni to the depths of hell for his play boy ways, the modern one is much more dramatic, in that he literally goes up in flames.

Don Giovanni opened in Wellington on Saturday night and plays at St James Theatre until 18 October.

The opera was also performed in August last year in Christchurch.