Classic Delights

Review by Ellen Trevanion for Woroni the Australian National University Student newspaper, 23 July 2013.

The Canberra Academy of Music and Related Arts has been around for quite some time. Working with a fine mix of local amateurs and trained singers, directors Colin Forbes and Patricia Whitbread have staged a number of operas and Gilbert and Sullivan comedies at St Philips Church in O’Connor. This year, the company tackled Mozart monster Don Giovanni with surprising results. Peter Laurence in the title role was vocally excellent but over-acted throughout, aiming for comic effect at the expense of dramatic impact. Veteran Peter Smith also brought out the comedy as Leporello, the Don’s servant, delivering a hilarious rendition of 'Madamina, il catalogo è questo' ('Madame, this is the catalogue'). Madeleine Rowland as a coquettish and playful Zerlina and Elisha Holley as the spurned and vengeful Donna Elvira were both excellent, despite both struggling slightly with the demanding intervals and quick runs. The highlight, however, was Tanuja Doss’ Donna Anna. Handling the demanding role with supreme command, she was particularly strong in duets with a vocally weaker Charles Hudson (Don Ottavio) which brought out a lovely, silvery quality to her voice. Although she missed a few abrupt leaps above the stave, her control was generally masterful.

While vocally strong, the production did, however, disappoint in some areas, failing to bring out the dramatic elements and serious themes and coming across instead as a light comedy. Given the nature of the space and the accompaniment, with Colin Forbes' flawless piano replacing a full orchestra, this is largely unavoidable however the general tenor of the performances exacerbated it. In some places, this was slightly disturbing as lines about domestic violence and sexual assault are delivered with a light-hearted lilt. The fall and damnation of the Don come across as comic rather than dramatic and much of the gravitas and drama is lost. It is a shame to see one of Mozart’s most magnificent and darkest operas reduced to comic farce but it is wonderful to see the quality of singers available in Canberra and to listen to some of the most beautiful melodic lines ever written.

Disclaimer: this reviewer is a former member of the Woden Valley Youth Choir.