* Notes *
Pocket Opera opened the 2020 season with Don Giovanni yesterday afternoon at the Hillside Club in Berkeley. The singing and staging of this English language performance was one of the most engaging I've experienced of Mozart's dark comedy.
Donald Pippin, the Artistic Director Emeritus of Pocket Opera, has retired and this is the first performance of the company I've seen without his whimsical commentary. While I did miss him, his stamp is still certainly seen in the translation of the libretto.
The opera started off more or less as a local company production, some very suspect playing from the tiny orchestra and fine singing from a strong cast. Director Jane Erwin's work is straightforward. Mozart's music leaves the eleven instrumentalists very exposed, every sour note or lack of unison was obvious.
Music director and conductor César Cañón made an earnest effort but there were moments of complete and painful chaos. Cañón's piano playing was sprightly and there were times when the Pocket Philharmonic managed to pull it together.
The cast is talented. Bass Jason Sarten is highly believable as the Commendatore, especially when he is meant to be a statue, his movements were spot on. Baritone Mitchell Jones is charming as Masetto, as is soprano Sara LeMesh as Zerlina. It was very interesting to hear LeMesh in something so different her spectacular turn as Bess in West Edge Opera's Breaking the Waves last summer. Her voice has a wonderful vitality to it but is always precise.
Mezzo-soprano Jaime Korkos begins with an appropriately hysterical tone as Donna Elvira, her desperation seems real and she grew more and more plaintive by the end. In contrast, Rabihah Davis Dunn was a well-controlled Donna Anna, her soprano is clear and flexible. As Don Ottavio, tenor Kevin Gino is sturdy and open. Baritone Spencer Dodd is a warm and winsome Leporello while baritone Anders Fröhlich radiates danger and menace as Don Giovanni.
By the beginning of the Act I finale I had pretty much heard and seen what I had expected, but when Don Ottavio brandishes a gun (which is in the libretto but I've rarely if ever seen on stage) I was snapped out of my complacency. The stakes seem very genuine, Don Giovanni's use of Leporello as a human shield actually makes sense, as is the latter's anger at the beginning of Act II.
The momentum of the drama wasn't lost after the intermission, and the handling of Don Giovanni's descent to hell was skillful. Fröhlich tears off his shirt as he is tormented by the invisible chorus of demons, then he himself is unseen by the rest of the cast. Leporello picks up the cast-off clothing as he explains himself in the concluding ensemble.
* Tattling *
There were the usual watch alarms at the hour. The audience looked full, I only saw one empty seat in the sixth row.