Don Giovanni at LA Opera Review: Sublime and Yet Disturbing

 

Georja: We went to see LA Opera’s Don Giovanni last night and Mozart’s beautiful lyrical arias and coloratura are still pleasantly ringing in my ears.  The melodies become familiar even as you are listening to them because they have so many variations and repetitions.  As such this piece is very important as an ensemble piece.  And the vocalizations and music sequences worked beautifully as such.  All the voices are lovely and meld together like a jigsaw puzzle.   One of the three sopranos, Donna Anna, played by Julianne Di Giacomo, deserves special mention, as her voice is extra sweet and lyrical. James Conlon and the orchestra were in top form.

And yet those same highlights and flourishes also slow down the plot of the story since there are so many pauses for variations.  It extends the scenes extra long and at times one would wish for a little more timely plot movement.

 

Giovanni (Ildebrando D'Arcangelo) seduces a young woman Zerlina (Roxana Constantinescu) on her wedding day

Gerald: Don Giovanni is Mozart’s Italian opera buffo interpretation of the Spanish legend Don Juan about the infamous serial seducer. At its heart and through most of the music, it is a frivolous comedy of flirtations and attempted seductions, but the story is framed within an ominous tragedy involving murder and retribution.

Party at Don Giovanni's house

Georja: I found Don Giovanni as opera disjointed and unsettling.  In the opening scene we are treated to the antics of Serbian bass David Bazic as Leporello. His comedic timing is as spot on as his voice and he amusingly prances about the stage in his bright orange jester-ish, servant costume.  Oh boy, it seems like we are going to be in for another lovely dessert opera in the likes of Cosi Fan Tutti.

But immediately and in the same setting while Leporello is flopping and ducking, we witness a brutal rape and murder scene.  Don Giovanni (Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo) in disguise appears on the stage full blown in the midst of one of his most ruthless and predatory actions.

 

Don Giovanni never repents

Gerald: Apparently, Mozart didn’t initially choose this material. Following the popular success of his Marriage of Figaro, the Prague theatre commissioned the piece, recommending that he and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte adapt Bertati’s one-act play. They also drew on a version by Moliere. Their opera became enormously popular, spawning translations in German, French, and English, which were mounted all over Europe. Why were audiences so receptive to this story? I think it’s like the old movie formula – let them experience forbidden pleasures and indulge secret desires – but make sure that all the sinners are punished in the end. A good example of this type of entertainment in Mozart’s time was the tradition of the masked ball, a device he incorporates in this and other operas. What is the purpose of the masks but to temporarily suspend the rigid social order and permit otherwise inappropriate flirtations?

Leporello (David Bizic) shows Donna Elvira (Soile Isokoski) Giovann's list of conquests

Georja: OK, so if this is a story about a heinous criminal, then let’s bring that on full force.  And it does – showing the scorned women and their suffering and Giovanni’s continued rampage. But yet at the same time, the story flits around Giovanni and his crimes, makes fun of him and his list of hundreds of women he has sullied, even as it continues to reveal more cruelty and deception.  Giovanni never changes and ultimately he is punished by eternal forces. As such he is one dimensional, as is Leporello who continues throughout to complain about him and yet secretly admire him in many ways.

The scorned women are also stereotypical and the usual plots of vengence are to be expected. One of them, Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski as Donna Elvira cannot get the bad boy out of her heart.

 

Donna Anna (Julianna Di Giacomo) with her suitor Don Ottavio (Andrej Dunaev)

Gerald: The singers in this production are all uniformly strong and competent. The males sing predominantly in the lower registers, to thrilling effect, and they are offset by the loveliness of the soprano melodies. The one tenor is Don Ottavio (sung by Russian tenor Andrej Dunaev), perhaps the most feckless character, but Mozart gives him lots of stage time and some of the most sublime arias. Some of the other arias have become so familiar and famous that they are stunning show stoppers. My favorite is the Giovanni-Zerlina (Roxana Constantinescu) duet in Act I “Là ci darem la mano (There We’ll Be Hand in Hand).” Perhaps more than any other song, this one shows Giovanni’s seductive charm, which Zerlina takes (momentarily, at least) to be sincere and genuine. (I couldn’t help noticing the resemblance between the lithe D’Arcangelo with his long, stringy hair and a young Steven Tyler, bad-boy rock star.)

 

Commendatore (Ievgen Orlov) comes back from the dead to get Don Giovanni

Georja: The staging is simple except for two awesome scenes. The graveyard scene where the dead Commendatore (Ukranian bass Ievgen Orlov) becomes a speaking statue, and the dining room scene where Commendatore also appears as white marble and beckons Giovanni to dine with him in hell.  LA Opera is very good at creating dramatic fires on stage. 

Gerald: Setting a comedy inside a tragedy creates an uncomfortable tension. In this opera, I think it also underscores the hypocrisy of Mozart’s age, particularly Viennese society. Enhancing this impression, costumer Moidele Bickel has clothed the actors in 18th century Austrian dress. Particularly striking are Ottavio and Anna, dressed consistently in black to indicate mourning but also emphasizing their straight-laced and stiff-necked mores as members of upper-class, respectable society. These are Mozart’s typical theater patrons, and for an evening at least, they’d wish to behave more like Giovanni and Zerlina.

Georja Umano is an actor and animal advocate.

Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.

Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Los Angeles Opera

135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

www.laopera.com
(213) 972-8001 
(213) 687-3490 fax
[email protected]

Saturday September 22, 2012 07:30 PM

Friday September 28, 2012 07:30 PM

Sunday September 30, 2012 02:00 PM

Wednesday October 03, 2012 07:30 PM

Saturday October 06, 2012 07:30 PM

Wednesday October 10, 2012 07:30 PM

Sunday October 14, 2012 02:00 PM

 

 



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