The University of York’s Opera Society certainly didn’t shy away from very high expectations for their production of Don Giovanni on Saturday night. With their having secured The Grand Opera House in terms of venue and only having rehearsed for a month prior to this only performance, the cast and crew had made it all too easy for the self-set high bar to potentially be left disappointingly unreached. This nagging trepidation that I had in mind upon settling into my seat for the show was, however, delightfully blown away.
The first and strongest impression of the opera from the moment the curtain revealed the set was that of its intention to be determinedly accessible. The set throughout was of a run-down urban youth ‘hang-out’, and the decision to use an English translation managed to pair with the modern set to emphasise the immortality of the work in an extremely well-executed way. It must also be noted how beautifully appropriate it indeed was for a student production to have had this focus; what is the role of a student society but to emphasise involvement? These twists and their resulting accessibility were well-considered, but also well played out without hindrance to the enjoyment of the opera in itself.
Jake Muffett hurled himself at the role of Don Giovanni with an undeniable vigour, with his acting and vocals both lending to almost entirely too convincing professions of adoration for the lifestyle of the titular character. This impressive energy still translated well towards evolving tones as the show went on, and he portrayed Giovanni’s differing flavours of manic passion throughout with an affecting power. His onstage relationship with Leporello (Stephanie Wake-Edwards) was convincing, and their particular chemistry was performed with clear ease.
Jason White and Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong’s performances as Masetto and Zerlina were phenomenally convincing, and Berkeley-Agyepong’s teasing and determinedly alluring take on Zerlina after a casting change was fantastically done. The couple’s interplay was the perfect mixture of ease and magnetic tension, establishing their roles in the opera with an intoxicating intensity.
From Stephanie Wake-Edwards’ opening sequence, her establishment as Don Giovanni’s servant was immediately solidified, despite the genderswap from her character’s traditional role as male. Although at times her voice strained to be heard above the (admittedly brilliant) 40-piece orchestra, the accessibility of her approach to the role was magnificent; her flawless expressiveness and character are what I believe truly cemented the intrinsic twists to this interpretation of Mozart’s classic as an undeniable success.
The beautifully strong voice of Eleanor Dann as Donna Anna and the sweetly executed sentimentality of Don Ottavio (Richard Pinkstone) combined with the rest of the cast to create a magnificent production that entirely deserved the thunderous applause and whooping given to it with the final bow.
The Opera Society not only delivered with their pre-set high expectations, but crafted an incredible, accessible and decidedly unique take on Mozart’s classic with a scarlet passion.