Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Review of audio described performance of Welsh National Opera’s Don Giovanni at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Vidar Hjardeng

Welsh National Opera’s Don Giovanni at the Birmingham Hippodrome on the evening of Friday, 18 November 2011 – reviewed by Vidar Hjardeng.

Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni tells the story of a dissolute Spanish nobleman whose seductions of a large number of women were carefully catalogued by his servant Leperello.

This Welsh National Opera production was created by the team responsible for one of the world’s most popular musicals, Les Miserables – director, John Caird, designer, John Napier and lighting designer, David Hersey. First produced in Prague in 1787 the action takes place in an unknown location in Spain, at the end of that century. Having had the welcome opportunity to listen to, and digest, the informative pre-show notes on CD (giving a synopsis of the plot, and details of the characters, costumes and scenery), it was good to be taken on stage to get a closer look at the set during the ever helpful touch tour, some 90 minutes or so before the start of the opera.

Far from naturalistic, the set consisted of 6 walled sections that either pivoted, or slid forward and sideways, to create a series of different locations. This enabled 3 or 4 different situations to develop at the same time as the characters in the opera deceived each other, watched each other unseen, or escaped when necessary! Accompanied by WNO stage management, the describers and members of the theatre staff, we were shown the setting for the start of the opera – very high walls with the focal point being massive double doors. These doors were based on the monumental work by the French sculptor, Auguste Rodin, entitled, The Gates of Hell, and it was extraordinary to literally get a feel for the deeply carved, 100 plus figures, writhing and screaming in despair as they tumbled down into Hell’s abyss. We were also told about another frieze of figures running across the top of the doors, containing the seated figure of a naked man with bowed head, possibly representing Adam contemplating Man’s destruction brought about by his own original sin. On each side of the monumental doors were 2 walls and, in the same bronze each section of wall contained 2 more narrow recessed sets of double doors, each framed by similar friezes of contorted, tortured naked figures. We were encouraged to follow this pattern along the sidewalls which ended in rough lumps of stone, from which emerged the half carved figures of Rodin’s The Thinker on the left hand side, and on the right, The Kiss. The latter depicting the naked figures of a man and a woman, entwined in a passionate embrace - our describers said that they seemed to be almost growing out of the rock on which they were seated.

The overall mood of the setting was dark, and the costumes of the 8 main characters reflected the late 1700s in which the action took place.

It was an altogether wonderfully presented and absorbing night at the opera, and without the illuminating touch tour and ‘live’ audio-description I know I would have missed so much of it.

The next WNO audio-described opera at the Birmingham Hippodrome will be Verdi’s La Traviata, on the night of Friday 10 March 2012 and details on ticket prices, how to book headsets and places on the touch tour, can be obtained from the box office on 0844 338 5000.

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