Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni at the Met

IMG_1359* Notes *
Director Ivo van Hove's debut production at The Met, Don Giovanni (ovation pictured), opened last night. The direction is sleek and contemporary, but best of all was baritone Peter Mattei in the title role.

Essentially the set is part of a square with five grey, brutalist buildings. There are lots of rectangular openings, arches, and stairs. It looks like a stripped down piazza. Nothing much changes for the first act and most of the second, which makes Don Giovanni's descent to hell all the more stark and surprising. This part of the production really does work well. 

The staging is contemporary, the men are in suits and dress shirts and the women in cocktail dresses. Everything is very black, white, and grey. This also means there are no swords, and the duel in the first scene involves a gunshot. It also means that the Commendatore is not a statue, but simply the singer wearing his bloodied shirt.

Maestra Nathalie Stutzmann made her debut with yesterday's performance as well, and the orchestra sounded very clear, and there were only the slightest synchronicity issues of getting ahead of the singers. Woodwinds and brass were lovely. The low strings were particularly beautiful in "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto” and the mandolin solo from John Lenti for "Deh, vieni alla finestra" was gorgeous. I very much enjoyed the continuo, it was jaunty and playful, especially Jonathan C. Kelly's fortepiano playing.

The cast is solid. The three sopranos all sounded really distinct. Ying Fang has a light, bright voiced Zerlina, while Ana María Martínez is icy and histrionic as Donna Elvira. Federica Lombardi was somewhere in the middle of these extremes, she certainly conveyed the feelings of her character Donna Anna. She has a big, dramatic voice, but sounded almost angelic in "Non mi dir."

Bass-baritone Alfred Walker is a grounded Masetto, bass-baritone Alexander Tsymbalyuk is a powerful Commendatore whose low notes are still audible over the orchestra, and bass-baritone Adam Plachetka is charming enough as Leporello. Tenor Ben Bliss gave the stiff and formal character of Don Ottavio some freshness, his arias were sweet and effortless but full of feeling as well. But best of all was baritone Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni, he struck the right balance of seductiveness and lack of empathy to play this rake. Sometimes it's difficult to see the appeal of this character, but Mattei really sells it, his voice has warmth and nuance. His "Fin ch'han dal vino calda la testa" was appropriately light and frothy, while his "Deh, vieni alla finestra" was plaintive.

* Tattling *
I flew in to New York at 7 in the morning for this performance, but only figured out there isn't standing room this season at 10am when the box office opens. I was surrounded by unmasked coughing ladies in Row F Seat 7 of Family Circle, which I'm just not used to anymore. It might have been fine, but there was a lot of rifling through purses for cough drops, offering of cough drops, declining of cough drops, and ultimately unwrapping of cough drops that was all rather loud and happening during the music. I hightailed it to the back of Family Circle, which was much nicer for me.

Someone was even more upset than I was near the score desks, house right, for he called out "Quiet" right before "Ho capito! Signor, sì." I guess I'm glad to see that we are all back to normal after the pandemic days of no opera performances. There were the usual watch alarms at the hour, of course.

SF Opera's Don Giovanni

_DSC4033* Notes * 
Don Giovanni, the last installment of the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy directed by Michael Cavanagh, opened yesterday evening at San Francisco Opera. It was a joy to hear Maestro Bertrand de Billy conduct this beautiful music and there was much lovely singing.

Post-apocalyptic future felt much like something out of Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower, though that work is set in the a few years from now rather than the late 2080s for this production. It felt like violence could happen at any moment in the decrepit version of the 18th century manor house that was once so charming for Così fan tutte from the fall.

There were references to the previous two operas, especially in the costuming. One of the funny red gnome hats worn by Dorabella and Fiordiligi show up on a chorus member who is one of the survivors of this dystopian world. The startling physicality of the singers was evident right a way in the death of the Commendatore, who took a disturbingly long time to die. The extensive projections during the overture which included fire and shadows of people were distracting and a bit on the nose.

It is always interesting to see how directors deal with various elements of the plot in a new way. Instead of threatening his guests with a gun in the Act I finale, Don Giovanni puts on sunglasses and has Leperello blind them with the light of his portable projector. This device is used during "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" to show the list of names of Don Giovanni's conquests, and appears throughout the piece.

I really enjoyed "Don Giovanni! A cenar teco m'invitasti," when the Commendatore comes for dinner as a monumental statue (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver). Usually this is my favorite bit of the opera anyway, because of those wild diminished sevenths and stentorian tones from the bass. Here the giant head that appeared was extremely absurd and surreal and I could not stop laughing, which was probably not the intended response, but certainly was one of the most memorable stagings of Don Giovanni I have ever seen. The descent to hell was particularly great, as the statue broke in half and both real fire and projections overtook our rakish anti-hero.

Instead of the usual mishmash of the two versions of the score, this time San Francisco Opera stuck to Vienna (1788) version. So it had "Dalla sua pace" but not "Il mio Tesoro" for Don Ottavio and "Restati qua... Per queste tue manine" in Act II, a duet for vengeful Zerlina and a rather hapless Leporello. The orchestra was neat and clear, the onstage and offstage musicians for the various bandas all played well. There were a few times when the music was a bit off-kilter, like for "Batti, batti o bel Masetto," as Mozart's music is unforgiving and exposes every flaw. However, conductor de Billy was more sedate than some others in recent memory, and it was nice to feel like the orchestra was secure and not in danger of flying off the rails. This is the first outing for our new chorus director John Keene, and it seemed fine, the chorus was cohesive and especially strong as unseen demons for the aforementioned inferno scene.

The cast is solid, lots of pretty singing and fine acting. As the Commendatore bass Soloman Howard might not have had the gravity of an older man, but his volume was good and his onstage death throes were convincing. Former Merolino bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum was slightly wooden as Masetto, but perhaps that works for the role. I do remember him being charming in Walton's The Bear in 2017, but obviously it is very different music. Soprano Christina Gansch sang Zerlina with warmth, particularly lovely in her duet "Là ci darem la mano" and showed a more sadistic side in the duet "Per queste tue manine." I still remember Luca Pisaroni as Masetto back in 2007 because I saw 6 or 7 of the performances, but he is an amiable Leporello and sounded robust. He was excellent at physical humor, and was very funny when he attempted to impersonate his master at the beginning of Act II.

_DSC8346Tenor Amitai Pati cuts a dashing figure as Don Ottavio, though he is a touch underpowered. His "Dalla sua pace" had a longing in it that was lovely. I liked soprano Nicole Car's Donna Elvira, her penetrating, taut sound is just shy of shrill and was perfect contrast to soprano Adela Zaharia's Donna Anna (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver). These three singers blended well together, and I loved their trio of Act I ("Protegga il giusto cielo"). Zaharia definitely was the standout of the evening. Her voice is incandescent, the low notes have richness and the high notes very shiny and secure. Her Act II aria "Non mi dir" was revelatory, one of the most beautiful moments of the whole opera. Baritone Etienne Dupuis was no slouch either as Don Giovanni, he is an excellent actor and has a nice, sweet voice that is bright enough to cut through the orchestra. I was impressed by his ability to channel the lankiness of Pisaroni's Leporello though their frames are rather different. He was also brutal with Donna Elvira (who in fact is played by his real life spouse), especially when he threw a dish of fish at her in Act II. Dupuis did well with "Fin ch'han dal vino calda la testa," light and sparkly and his "Deh, vieni alla finestra" was also very pretty.

Tattling * 
The couple in front of us in Row S Seats 2 and 4 were chatty, but the maskless person next to them in Seat 6 was even louder, he had the sniffles and his breathing was so distinct and in my ear I thought it might be my date that was snarfling so much. The woman in Seat 4 couldn't take it and switched to Row R Seat 2 before Donna Elvira's entrance.

This was good in that her date (whose mask was carefully tucked under his chin) had to lean forward to talk to her, and thus the sound of their voices was further away from me. When I gigglingly suggested to my companion that it was she that had caused all that racket, she was offended and incensed. She rolled up her opera program and hit me as she proclaimed "Batti! Batti!"

None of the three returned to their seats after intermission. I did not notice any electronic noise during the performance but a lot of audience members dropped things.

Don Giovanni at Pocket Opera

Don-giovanni-pocket-opera-2020* 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.

Merola's Don Giovanni

  Merola-don-giovanni-2014* Notes *
Merola Opera Program's latest production of Don Giovanni (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) opened with the first of two performances on Thursday night. Director James Darrah's production goes against the text and the drama, with most of the action taking place in an artist's studio, designed by Emily MacDonald and Cameron Mock. There is lots of face touching, crawling about, and getting up on tables. While enjoyably amusing, this does little to elucidate the narrative. I did laugh a lot when the chorus banged on the table in the last scene.

Admittedly, there are some effective devices and times when the space was used inventively. It is cute when Leperello walks out into the audience for the line "Anch'io, caro padrone, esibisco la mia protezione" and chooses someone to "protect." Also, Don Giovanni's descent to the netherworld is handled convincingly enough, with the chorus simply overwhelming him.

Martin Katz conducted a tentative and somewhat muddy sounding orchestra. The strings were problematic. Act II was an improvement over Act I, however. In any case, the impressive singing was certainly the main attraction, as it is for all Merola events. Yujin Kim and Rhys Lloyd Talbot made for a perfectly nice Zerlina and Masetto. Kim was particularly jaunty. Szymon Wach was a roguish but not especially lovable Leporello. His voice has a husky quality but is sufficiently loud. Scott Russell sang the Commendatore with power. Karen Chia-Ling Ho made for a strong Donna Elvira. She definitely seemed unhinged.

Benjamin Werley sang Don Ottavio's two arias with great beauty, there were times when his voice truly seemed seamless. Amanda Woodbury (Donna Anna) has a bright, lovely voice. Her arias were some of the best moments of the evening. Edward Nelson has an attractive voice and radiated confidence as a rather unlikeable Don.

* Tattling *
The audience was fairly silent and still. A girl in E7 had to exit the hall in Act I but returned quickly. The most ill-behaved person I observed was myself, as I had difficulty containing my mirth at the production.

As we were leaving, I also got in the way of the director as he rushed out of the theater to take his bow on stage. While this was happening, we admired an adorable sleeping newborn in a young woman's arms backstage, oblivious to the ovation.

Opera San José's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-sj-opera-2014* Notes *
Don Giovanni opened with two different casts at Opera San José over the weekend. The piece seemed a bit beyond the abilities of all those involved. Though Mozart sounds wonderfully effortless, the Sunday afternoon performance on Easter was both sincere and labored. It was probably a wise decision to cut "Dalla sua pace," for example. Anthony Quartuccio conducted an orchestra that sounded angular and moderate. The unsubtle singing was promising but not quite together, the singers often lagged behind the orchestra.

Mozart does not leave a lot of margin for error, and the mistakes were painfully exposed. All of the singing was rather loud, and we never had a problem hearing the singing over the rest of the music. Jennifer Forni was a slightly shrill Donna Anna. Lisa Chavez made for a sultry and vehement Donna Elvira. Krassen Karagiozov was an amusing and bright Leporello. In the title-role Evan Brummel lacked charisma. His voice is nice enough, but the most memorable moment of his performance was when he accidentally threw the mandolin into the door frame after "Deh vieni alla finestra."

For the most part, the fairly standard production kept to the text. The ending did not involve a supernatural descent but was resolved by having Masetto punish the rake instead.

* Tattling * 
There was much noisy candy-eating in Rows D and F on the right side of the orchestra level.

Don Giovanni at the Met

Don-giovanni-met-2012* Notes * 
The Michael Grandage production of Don Giovanni (Act II pictured left, photograph by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) is currently having a first revival at the Metropolitan Opera. The performance last Saturday was good, but not outstanding. Edward Gardner conducted a lively and speedy orchestra. Raymond Aceto could have sounded more commanding as the Commendatore. Ekaterina Siurina's voice is creamy and sweet, and seemed perfectly fine for Zerlina. Emma Bell's Donna Elvira was slightly unhinged, but never out of control. Erwin Schrott was an amusingly silly Leporello.

Charles Castronovo (Don Ottavio) has a dark warmth to his voice, but he struggled with some of the high notes. Susanna Phillips was promising as Donna Anna, her voice is strong, but has a nice bell-like quality. Ildar Abdrazakov, on the other hand, lacked brightness in "Fin ch'han dal vino." It seemed like the role was just a bit high for Abdrazakov, but he projected well for "Deh vieni alla finestra."

The production dates from last year, yet was not particularly fresh or inventive. The large set is monolithic and rumbles when moved. The handling of Don Giovanni's descent is certainly the most exciting visual moment, as it uses real fire.

* Tattling *
At least one cellular phone was heard in the Family Circle during Act I.

LA Opera's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-la-opera-2012* Notes * 
Peter Stein's production of Don Giovanni (Act II pictured left with Soile Isokoski as Donna Elvira, David Bizic as Leporello, Roxana Constantinescu as Zerlina, Joshua Bloom as Masetto, Julianna Di Giacomo as Donna Anna, and Andrej Dunaev as Don Ottavio; photograph by Robert Millard) for Lyric Opera opened at Los Angeles Opera yesterday. The direction, from Gregory A. Fortner, is sensible, but entertaining. The entrances and exits of various characters on stage are clearly motivated. Relying heavily on drawn curtains to change scenes, Ferdinand Wögerbauer's set is stark and serviceable. Moidele Bickel's costumes share this neat simplicity.

James Conlon had the orchestra zipping along, often ahead of the singers. The brass sounded exposed at one point in the overture, but was otherwise satisfactory. The chorus members made for cheerful peasants in Act I, and sang heartily in Act II.

The cast has many charming singers. Joshua Bloom is convincing as Masetto, oafish and silly, but with a pretty voice. Roxana Constantinescu is a lusty, vivid Zerlina, yet sang "Batti, batti" with tender appeal. Soile Isokoski has a mellifluous voice, but could sound perfectly hysterical as Don Elvira, as the role requires. Ievgen Orlov could have sung The Commendatore with more authority, as his voice seems fairly strong. Andrej Dunaev impressed as Don Ottavio, singing both his arias with good volume. Julianna Di Giacomo (Donna Anna) sounded bright but silvery. In fact, all the female voices were very distinct from one another.

David Bizic's Leporello was more charismatic than Ildebrando D'Arcangelo's Don Giovanni. Bizic and D'Arcangelo sounded somewhat similar, perhaps because the latter is a bass-baritone. D'Arcangelo lacked appeal in "Là ci darem la mano," and sang "Fin ch'han dal vino" without verve. He was extremely funny in Act II whilst pretending to be Leporello, and he did sing "Deh, vieni alla finestra" with beauty and sweetness.

* Tattling * 
There was a tiresome amount of talking, singing, and snoring in the Grand Circle. The couple in Row P Seats 30 and 31 spoke to each other without regard to music or singing.

Don Giovanni Log

15. October 2011: Opening
Opera Tattler Review

18. October 2011: From the Orchestra
* Had a brief discussion about the cuts to the opera with Maestro Luisotti before the performance. When asked why the epilogue was cut, he simply answered that it was thus in the Vienna version. He also explained how the continuo was divided between his fortepiano playing and Bryndon Hassman's harpsichord.
* The overture was much more together, as was pretty much all the playing, except for the end of Act I.
* Shawn Mathey was more confident as Don Ottavio. He can always be heard, but his performance was not particularly nuanced. Some of the voiceless alveolar stops either had aspiration or were subsituted with alveolar flaps.
* Ellie Dehn unraveled during her first aria, "Or sai chi l'onore." She seems terrified of making mistake.
* Vocally, Kate Lindsey (Zerlina) is quite contained.
* Serena Farnocchia's breath control is lacking, but for Elvira, it seems fine.
* Marco Vinco's patter as Leporello is nearly perfect.
* There was some talking from certain audience members.

21. October 2011: From the Balcony
* Luisotti's fortepiano playing is charming and comic.
* A latecomer stuck in standing room saw fit to sit next to me for "Dalla su pace." She turned on her cellular phone, whose buttons intoned high pitches to indicate they were being pressed. She clapped for the tenor even though she spent the entire aria either on her phone or reading the program.
* The first cellist played "Batti, batti" beautifully.
* The audience clapped in before the music was over three times.
* Either the mechanism that is used for Don Giovanni's descent or the smoke machine makes a buzzing that is obvious from the back of the balcony.

23. October 2011: From the Balcony
* Everyone sounded more together and less frightened.
* The end of Act I was less chaotic.
* Lucas Meacham's voice is incredibly pretty. There was a point near the end of the Champagne aria where he sounds out of breath.
* Ellie Dehn's intonation was better.
* Serena Farnocchia swallowed fewer of her low notes at the ends of phrases.
* There were a lot of children at this performance. The smaller ones are invariably better behaved than the larger ones. This seems counterintuitive, shouldn't younger children have poorer impulse control?

26. October 2011: From the Orchestra
* Someone sounded squeaky during "Ho capito! Signor, sì."
* The orchestra was ahead of the singers at the beginning of "Là ci darem la mano."
* The two onstage orchestras for the Act I finale stood whilst playing, a detail I had missed before.
* Someone unfastened his or her shoes during the opera. The velcro straps were noisy.

29. October 2011: From the Boxes
* Quite a lot of fun watching the orchestra and Maestro Luisotti.
* The screens in the corners of the box level were not in use.
* From up close, Kate Lindsey's cartwheel during "Giovinette che fate all'amore" and Ryan Kuster's somersault in Act I Scene 19 were even more impressive.
* The French horns were clear in "Ho capito," and only one note in "Non mi dir" was less than perfect.
* The box subscribers were uncharacteristically silent, there was almost no talking in Boxes W, X, or Y. A bottle of carbonated water was opened during "Ah, fuggi il traditor."
* Ellie Dehn had a very good night, less pitchy and generally stronger.

2. November 2011: From the Balcony
* Pleased to note that the person sharing the bench with me in the balcony was also reading the score.
* Someone collapsed at the north doors of the balcony just before "Dalla su pace." It seemed quite serious, as the person was unconscious and the nurse was called to attend to him.

5. November 2011: From the Balcony
* There was an earthquake measuring 3.2 at 2:52pm. The epicenter was in Piedmont.
* Ellie Dehn sounded fragile during "Or sai chi l'onore." She seemed on the verge of cracking on the penultimate D of the aria.
* The flute, clarinet, and bassoon sounded particularly lovely in "Dalla su pace" this afternoon.

10. November 2011: From the Balcony
* The last performance was consistent with the previous few.
* The horns played cleanly.
* Luisotti was occasionally visible in some of the mirrors. One wonders why the director did not really make use of the mirrors, except to change the scenes.

SF Opera's Don Giovanni Media Round-Up

Don-giovanni-act-iProduction Web Site | SF Opera's Blog

Reviews of San Francisco Opera's Don Giovanni (Act I pictured left with Ryan Kuster as Masetto, Kate Lindsey as Zerlina, and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus; photograph by Cory Weaver) are slowly trickling in.

Performance Reviews: | Not For Fun Only | San Francisco Chronicle | San Francisco Classical Voice | San Francisco Examiner | San José Mercury News | SFist

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.

Don Giovanni Cast Changes (SF/NY)

Don_Giovanni_Playbill_Vienna_Premiere_1788Shawn Mathey will replace Topi Lehtipuu as Don Ottavio in San Francisco Opera's new production of Don Giovanni, opening this Saturday. Lehtipuu has withdrawn due to illness. Shawn Mathey makes his San Francisco Opera debut with these performances.

In other Don Giovanni news, Peter Mattei replaces Mariusz Kwiecien in the first three performances of Met's new production, on October 13, 17, and 22. Kwiecien herniated a disc in his back during rehearsal. He will return to the role starting October 25. Rodion Pogossov takes over Mattei's performances of Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia on October 14 and 22.

SF Opera Press Release | SF Opera's Official Site | The Met's Official Site

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.

Don Giovanni at Bayerische Staatsoper

Don-giovanni-bso2009 Our correspondent in Germany, Opernphrenologe, was recently in Munich. What follows is a lightly edited review of the new Don Giovanni production that recently opened at Bayerische Staatsoper.

   * Notes *
The premiere of Don Giovanni, directed by Stephan Kimmig, in München started out badly enough. The curtain opened to reveal a naked old man with saggy boobs, shivering. From that point on, the production continued to get steadily worse. Behind him were a bunch of shipping containers that moved around and opened throughout the opera. One of the worst scenes was the wedding party, which was a rave with two 3-foot high penguin statues that people danced with. The masks were snorkeling masks, and there were half-naked lesbian snow bunnies humping each other here and there. Even worse was the send-Giovanni-to-Hell scene. Heaven was a shipping container, this time filled with people dressed like priests and army soldiers. Giovanni was cooking dinner in his modern kitchen (located in a shipping container that also contained around 20 mannequins), and he was sent to Hell by shaking hands with a chain of hand-holding army dudes and priests. When they let go, Giovanni fell to the ground next to his modern food processor. Profound. There was also a film screen that added absolutely nothing to the production, except to perhaps make it worse, as if it needed help in that department. At the end, everyone danced around, and old-naked-man came out again with his old-man-boobs to blow on some pinwheels.

Mariusz Kwiecien (Don Giovanni) did not sing as well as I remember him singing before. He sounded like he was mumbling and there was not much dynamic range in his voice. Perhaps he had a cold? Then again, he was definitely slimy, and an especially bad moment was when he pretended to give a doll a horseback ride on his knee. Maija Kovalevska (Donna Elvira) was a hippy backpacker chick in this particular production. Her voice was sweet and lovely, and she was incredibly fit. She must work out a lot. My favorite singer was Pavol Breslik (Don Ottavio), and I guess others agreed since he received loud applause at the end. His interpretation of the music was wonderful, with lots of dynamics and a sugary tone. However, even he could not make up for the flat, off-tune, and downright ugly singing of Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna). Her famous aria was like nails on a chalkboard. Fortunately for her, most people do not have perfect pitch and she received lukewarm applause at the end (with only a few buh's). The orchestra was also lightly buh'd. It is true that they were a bit sloppy, but they were not bad. They were like a player piano that had played the same tune one too many times. Some of the horn section looked angry when they were buh'd, which I suppose is understandable. After all, it is the conductor's (in this case, Kent Nagano's) job to interpret the music and not allow them to be sloppy.

The producers were heartily buh'd at the end. Some people responded to the buh'ing with loud applause, as if they somehow "got" the profundity of the production while the buh'ers did not. Or perhaps they just found the old-man-boobs incredibly sexy. I might guess the latter.

* Tattling * 
We did not have tickets for this production, since it sold out and I tried to buy tickets too late. Instead, we bought tickets from vicious female ticket scalpers who fought amongst themselves to unload their overpriced tickets on us. It was fearsome to watch them in action, and we both needed to tipple afterwards. My companion was an Opera Virgin, and we acquired her ticket from the only nice scalper in the bunch. I suspect that my companion will never willingly attend opera again -- the production was that bad. The audience was unusually engaged compared to the average performance (but perhaps not for a premiere). They seemed extremely pleased with themselves during the hearty buh'ing at the end.

Merola's Don Giovanni

 * 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.

I was delighted to note bloggers in the audience, on stage, and in the orchestra.

Santa Fe Opera's 2009 Season

July 3- August 29 2009: La Traviata
July 4- August 28 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
July 18- August 27 2009: Don Giovanni
July 25- August 18 2009: The Letter
August 1-19 2009: Alceste

The 2009 season at Santa Fe Opera opens with La Traviata with Natalie Dessay singing Violetta. Elza van den Heever has her Santa Fe Opera debut as Donna Anna, and Lucas Meachem sings the title role. The season also includes the world premiere of Paul Moravec's The Letter, with Patricia Racette in the role of Leslie Crosbie. The Baroque opera this year is Gluck, with Christine Brewer as Alceste and Paul Groves making his Santa Fe Opera debut as Admete.

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