Conlon conducts SFS in Shostakovich & Mussorgsky
SF Opera's Don Giovanni Media Round-Up

SF Opera's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-sfopera-masks* Notes * 
The latest run of Don Giovanni opened last night at San Francisco Opera. The new production, directed by Gabriele Lavia, is fairly simple. Much of the singing takes place under the proscenium, which is great for hearing the arias, but not particularly dynamic. Half of the characters were able to find an impressive physicality in their roles, and others were rather static. Alessandro Camera's set was straightforward, consisting of 22 mirrors on wires, dozens of Rococo side chairs, and what looked to be an artificial lawn. Andrea Viotti's costumes had period silhouettes in a palette of burgundy, grey, and black. The masks for Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, and Don Ottavio (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) were rather funny. As a whole, the stage direction was similarly absurd, Lavia did not pack in that many ideas, but he held onto them for the entire show.

The orchestra sounded charming and exuberant under Nicola Luisotti. The musicians were not, however, always together. The violins might have gotten just a bit ahead in the overture, and there were definitely times when the orchestra was ahead of the singers. On the other hand, the playing was restrained enough to only rarely overwhelm the singing. The chorus sounded strong and together.

Much of the singing was very nice indeed. Morris Robinson (The Commendatore) stayed truly as still as a statue for the graveyard scene, and his vocal entrance in Scene 18 of Act II was authoritative and terrifying. Ryan Kuster was a clownish Masetto, and his voice has a sweet, youthful warmth. Kate Lindsey moved beautifully as Zerlina, and her high mezzo had a brilliant clarity. Serena Farnocchia was strong as Donna Elvira, and acted rather well vocally, though she was less convincing in her movements. It was odd that the director had her plop down on her knees so often. Marco Vinco (Leperello) was sympathetic, he moves with ease and agility. His voice, though not beautiful, is serviceable enough for this role.

In contrast, Shawn Mathey looked visibly uncomfortable as Don Ottavio, though understandably, given that he took over the role so recently. Mathey sounded on the verge of a panic attack in his first scene with Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna), but improved over the course of the performance. Dehn struggled in "Or sai chi l'onore." This was not helped by the production, which belied the words of the aria by having the first scene be a tryst rather than an attempted rape. Dehn's "Non mi dir" was less effortful and had more grace. Lucas Meachem's Don Giovanni was a menacing sociopath. His sunglasses hid his gaze and this did not benefit his performance. It seems this is a role that Meachem still has to grow into, even though his voice is smooth and pretty, he did seem stiff. Perhaps he was just constrained by the stage direction. He did race through "Fin ch'han dal vino" at an incredible speed. However, his "Deh vieni alla finestra" was tender and lovely.

The epilogue has been cut from these performances, a choice of the Maestro and director. While dramatically, it makes sense end with the Don descending into Hell, musically, I for one missed "Questo è il fin."

* Tattling * 
There was some whispering during the music in Orchestra Standing Room, mostly from latecomers who were not seated until the intermission. People were confused by a roped off section of the railing, apparently not knowing this means this location is not an appropriate place to stand. At intermission some very nice subscribers who were leaving early gave us their tickets on the Center Aisle.