Who couldn’t love Don Juan? Who hasn’t loved him? He was the libertine all women privately crave and all men crave to be. Well, maybe. All I know is it makes for a good story and Wolfy was by no means slow to recognise its potential for opera, in his trademark style. In this brand-spanking production from Opera Australia, director Goran Jarvefelt seems to have chanelled the good-humoured spirit of the decomposing composer. I fancy Mozart would have approved.

As so many have acknowledged, from the first few bars, this is the perfect opera. Mozart has the unparallelled knack of throttling-up the dramatics from the get-go so, by the time the overture is winding down, we’re already waiting with Leporello, keeping guard, anticipating, worrying the Don will be caught with his pants down. Conal Coad picks up on the comic promise of the situation immediately and instinctively; we’re primed for laughing and nary a word has been sung.

Soon after Leporello’s warning of an approach, the lithe, elongated Teddy Tahu Rhodes leaps from the balcony of Donna Anna’s bedroom, looking like he’s wearing Zorro’s pjs, right down to black leather hotpants. Donna Anna’s father, the Commendatore, is in hot pursuit, veritably crying, “who was that masked man?!” Regrettably, Don G resolves to kill him, despite his perfunctory protestations that “I don’t fight old men”. I say regrettably, but, for Don G, it’s not just a survival tactic, it’s half the fun. Yes, he’s a deplorable human being, but so consummately charming and disarming, you can’t help but like him.

Carl Friedrich Oberle’s design is also a star: nothing too fancy, but built around a sense of tasteful grandeur which enhances the sense of time and place, as well as the narrative. Conductor Mark Wiggesworth waves a magic wand to bring the very best out of the Austrian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, which is saying a lot. But it’s Jarvefelt for whom I reserve the greatest admiration (also saying a lot), for having the courage to take this ravishing work in the most good-natured comical direction, without sacrificing the drama or philosophical and psychosocial questions raised in the clever libretto.

The cast is to die for and, as a whole, this production might just be the finest I’ve seen.

The details: Don Giovanni plays the Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House tonight and for 10 more performances until November 5. A Melbourne season opens at the State Theatre, Arts Centre on December 2. Tickets on the OA website.

Peter Fray

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