Blomstedt conducts Mozart's Linz
San Francisco Symphony's 2010-2011 Season

Don Giovanni at Berkeley Opera

Berkeleyoperagiovanni * Notes *
Berkeley Opera's inaugural production at El Cerrito Performing Arts Theatre, Don Giovanni, is a great success. The new venue features an actual orchestra pit, a balcony, and 450 seats compared to the 328-seat Julia Morgan, where Berkeley Opera performed for the last 12 years. The second performance last night looked quite full, and it is possible the whole run sold out. The opera company needs a new name, as El Cerrito is not even in the same county as Berkeley. In fact, there is a contest on to submit suggestions, and the winner will receive a subscription for next season.

Alexander Katsman did not quite have the orchestra in hand, the musicians and singers were not entirely together, and there were intonation errors from the violins. The woodwinds were a bit squeaky, and the brass also made a few mistakes. The overture did go fairly well, and the brass did especially nicely. In any case, there were many pretty voices in the cast. William O'Neill was convincing as Masetto, his voice suits the role, but his accent in Italian could use some work. Elyse Nakajima (Zerlina) sounded vulnerable, light, and young. Aimée Puentes was hilarious as Donna Elvira, her comic timing was perfect, and she did not push her voice too hard.

Michael Desnoyers was warm and bright as Don Ottavio, and he sang "Il mio tesoro" with beauty. "Dalla sua pace" was not used in this version. Kaileen Miller (Donna Anna) started off somewhat quietly, but warmed up over time. Her voice is icy and has perhaps too much vibrato at the top, but still is appealing. Igor Vieira was amusing as Leporello and has a lovely voice, though he did get a little ahead of the music more than once. Eugene Brancoveanu was a cartoon of a Don Giovanni, completely excessive in his portrayal. It was funny, and certainly Brancoveanu has a gorgeous voice, rich and hefty.

The light-hearted production, directed by the new artistic director of Berkeley Opera, Mark Streshinsky, had its moments, but missed the mark at crucial points. There were many original and diverting aspects, certainly. Having a yoga class for "Ah, chi mi dice mai" was exceedingly entertaining, and Puentes did a fantastic job of pulling this off. Having racks of costumes descend during "Fin ch'han dal vino" set us up nicely for the following scenes. The rubber chicken at the end of one of the racks was a fine touch.

Projections were used to good effect for the "Madamina, il catalogo è questo," but the falling rose petals for the marriage procession certainly must be a screensaver on some ancient desktop somewhere, and the way the statue of the Commendatore was handled simply looked like a video game. Projection is quite tricky, especially because they tend to be behind the singers, rendering the interaction between the two rather artificial. Technology aside, the real problems were in the stage direction. How exactly is Don Giovanni keeping his attackers at bay at the end of Act I, when he has no weapons and is simply dancing around? What prompts Don Giovanni to get on the upstage platform in the finale, besides the fact that he has to descend?

* Tattling * 
The audience was enthused, and talked very little during the music. The patrons on the right side of Orchestra Level Row P were indulgent, and put up with my crawling over them to get to my seat, which of course was nearly in the middle of the row. Next time one should be sure to arrive earlier, as the line for will call was extensive. Both Aaron Copland's The Tender Land and the adaptation of Wagner's Ring by David Seaman sound worthy of attendance.