Review- Don Giovanni- Opera Hong Kong


By Peter Gordon


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni might well be the best opera ever written. 

Opera Hong Kong’s recent production, with mostly young casts that leaned strongly on local singers, gave a good indication as to why.

Despite a certain tendency in recent years to treat the opera darkly, director Jean-Louis Grinda’s staging was lighter in tone, emphasizing, in his words, that it is all a “game” or “fable”.

This is not, of course, the only way to interpret this complex and often subtle opera, but it complemented and suited the energy and freshness of the two casts. The sets were simple, moveable arched and tiled colonnades, attractive in earth tones and pastels which might have evoked Macau as much as Seville.


The Hong Kong Sinfonietta, under the direction of conductor Martins Ozolins from the Latvian National Opera and Ballet, kept everything moving briskly along. The singing was characterized not so much by remarkable individual performances, although there were some, as by chemistry and coherence.



This Don Giovanni was a star vehicle for soprano Louise Kwong, in the lead role of Donna Elvira; Kwong was picked up a year ago by Fabbrica, the Young Artist programme of the Rome Opera. She always displayed promise, and she returns an accomplished performed with considerable stage presence; her voice displays both strength and beauty.


Several of the other singers were products of the Jockey Club Opera Hong Kong Young Artist Development Programme, the effects of which were much in evidence. Alison Lau and Joyce Wong shared the role of the peasant girl Zerlina, yet as quite different people: Lau was sweet and (largely) demure, while Wong’s portrayal was more forward.


Masetto, her husband-to-be, was shared by Apollo Wong and Sammy Chien. Tenor Chen Yong, well-known to Hong Kong audiences, may have found his perfect role in Don Ottavio; Mozart seems to suit him. Whether American soprano Michelle Lange has been in Hong Kong long enough to qualify for home team status, Hong Kong is lucky to have her: her Donna Elvira was strongly sung and strong-willed. Joining them from the US were Richard Ollarsaba, who brought an Iberian flavour to what is, after all, a Spanish part, more a Don Juan than a Don Giovanni.


Marcelo Guzzo’s Don Giovanni was more malevolent, even brutish. Joseph Barron and Alex Soare shared the role of Giovanni’s servant and sidekick Leporello, again are two different interpretations, with Soare matching Guzzo’s rather darker portrayal. Victoria Cannizzo and Katherine Whyte bother breathed some humanity into the role of Donna Anna, a character that can all too often come off as stiff and Victorian.


The opening night’s Don Ottavio was tenor David Blalock. Anchoring the cast was the veteran bass Hao Jiang Tian, whose Commendatore, Donna Anna’s murdered father and the fateful stone guest who returns in the finale to drag Don Giovanni off to perdition, hearkened back to memorable performances of a generation ago: a
deep, resonant voice capable of a father’s empathy and a divine avenging gravitas.


His decades of experience in the world’s great opera house were clearly evident. Perhaps, just perhaps, this production of Don Giovanni, which excelled despite—or more likely, because of—its young cast without (Hao Jiang Tian excepted) an internationally-renowned headliner, with a strong complement of local singers in lead parts more than holding their own, displays a formula for future sustainability for Hong Kong Opera.

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