Is it the music that keeps all the young people away from opera? Is it economics? Or just the ambience? All those Bollinger-swilling bankers do not help its reputation for elitism. Country house opera, even at our wonderful local Grange Festival, can make you feel as if you’re not part of it unless you’ve dropped ten grand in patronage and packed the right sort of picnic. 

Hurn Court Opera’s performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, in the Theatre Royal on April 11, was a deeply refreshing contrast. This was opera as it ought to be: a committed group of talented young singers riding on the delight of an audience that was as full of newbies as buffs.

Hampshire Chronicle: The opera is a 'thoughtful and funny' update of the classic showThe opera is a 'thoughtful and funny' update of the classic show (Image: Patrick Frost, BlackStar Pictures)

Occasionally I registered a flicker of inexperience but the singing was seriously high quality. Sam Young’s priapic, leather-and-eyeliner rock-star roué of a Don Giovanni dominated just as it should have done. He handled the transitions from good-timer to apocalyptic-end-of-timer superbly, and the comic partnership with Samuel Lom’s sympathetic Leporello was a delight.

Lizzie Ryder (Donna Anna) and Daniel Gray Bell (Don Ottavio) brought the emotional depth. Bell has a rare ease, right through the register, while Ryder has a dark tint to her voice that makes perfect sense of the casting. Her ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ was as electrifying as it should be, and Ottavio’s soaringly heartfelt ‘Dalla sua pace’ an exquisite response. 

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Hannah O’Brien (Donna Elvira) gave the persuasive performance of a seasoned pro. The audience favourites, though, were Harrison Chéné-Gration (Masetto) and Tilly Goodwin (Zerlina), both allegedly third-year students at the Royal Academy of Music. Chéné-Gration’s flush-faced young bullock of a Masetto was the perfect foil for Goodwin’s eyelash-batting, fausse-ingénue of a Zerlina. They showed how for the next generation of performers, the acting is as important as the singing – and how important that is. 

Hampshire Chronicle: The young cast impressed the reviewerThe young cast impressed the reviewer (Image: Patrick Frost, BlackStar Pictures)

The chorus and orchestra, led by Hurn Court’s artistic director Lynton Atkinson, provided an amazingly rich, assured sound, given their size. And if the set and costume design were fairly minimal, that is inevitable when a seat in the stalls costs £28 and the cast is paid properly. Above all, the production felt coherent. At the end, as Giovanni (spoiler alert!) is dragged down to hell, the chorus appears bearing placards painted with blood-red uplifted hands and the words ‘Me Too’. An opera with a sexually rapacious – and violent – protagonist is very much a ‘problem play’ nowadays. This was a thoughtful and funny way around the problem. 

Hurn Court Opera’s strapline is ‘Supporting tomorrow’s vocal stars’. I think they’re doing more – they’re supporting tomorrow’s opera. They sent an entire theatre audience home fizzing and buzzing. And it didn’t need champagne. They will be back in Winchester later in the year for a recital (September 7) and the finals of their Singer of the Year Competition (November 2), and in the Theatre Royal this time next year, with another full-scale opera. Book early.

Review by James McConnachie