* Notes *
The Merola Opera Program's Don Giovanni opened with the first of two performances last night. Director Catherine Malfitano's production is a bit busy, bursting at the seams with movement. For example, from the very beginning, the overture had an elaborate pantomime, showing us many of the principal characters and detracting from the music. At other times the choreography was effective, as in the first fight scene between the Don and the Commendatore or the hilarious interaction between lovers during "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto." The sets, by Wilson Chin, consisted of four walls meant to look like arcades, and could be arranged in different ways for the various scenes. Mark Gilmore's lighting went well with this set, as did Ulises Alcala's period costumes.
Conductor Gary Thor Wedow's tempi seemed a little erratic, at times uncomfortably slow and at other times somewhat fast, so the contrasts of speed were strong, but possibly arbitrary. There were many timing issues when the orchestra was not with the singers, or not exactly with each other, though one imagines tomorrow's performance will be better. It may be that the space for the orchestra is not ideal, the musicians did look awkwardly crowded in the shallow, narrow pit. There were some pitch problems as well, from the violins and horn especially. Nonetheless, there were absolutely gorgeous moments, and the finale was splendid.
The young singers were entirely impressive. Joélle Harvey (Zerlina) and Adam Cioffari (Masetto) did start off a bit quietly at first, perhaps because they were upstage, but sang nicely. Both of Joélle's arias were lovely, as she has a sweet, flexible voice, though she did have a few rather audible breaths. Carlos Monzón hammed it up as Leporello, and sang "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" to great effect, not overly loud and with a fair amount of ease. The audience loved him, and even clapped in the middle of the aforementioned aria. Ben Wager was cast well as the Commendatore, though his voice is a bit light, he was convincing. The Donna Elvira, Rena Harms, was outstanding. She did start off with much rasping, and was able to seem completely mad, but was able to turn it all around during the quartet "Non ti fidar, o misera." Rena's Act II aria "Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" was moving. David Lomelí was a most sympathetic Don Ottavio, his Act I aria was a little rushed at times, but he was wonderful in Act II. The radiant Amanda Majeski sang Donna Anna beautifully, though she had an awful lot of vibrato at the beginning and was at times too loud for the small theater. Austin Kness was lovable enough in the title role, he did seem slightly nervous. His timing for "Fin ch'han dal vino" was good, and his voice is certainly pleasant.
* Tattling *
The audience was well-behaved, only one watch alarm was heard, and only scattered whispers near the beginning. Of course Don Giovanni has many funny parts, but the woman next to me laughed a lot by herself during the first act, and I did wonder if she was trying to signal to her date that she was having a marvelous time. This was only a minor distraction, what really got me off track was listening too hard to the violins, as I was only a few feet from them. This is the trade off for sitting closer to the front at Cowell, the audience is better, but the orchestra is just more prominent than it should be, as it is on the same level as the seating. Also, seagulls were very clearly heard at least on three occasions during Act I, after the quartet and before the party scene.