Facing the prospect of being saturated Saturday in the Dons Giovanni (what with a Met matinée and an opening night for Opera Atelier, offering the same opera twice in one day) I am surprising myself. Even though I saw the OA dress rehearsal tonight, I’m planning to see it a second time Saturday, passing up the Met for a second helping of our HIP (historically informed performance) Don. I can always catch the encore from the Met in a few weeks time.
And HIP hooray, as they delve into the very text that we thought we knew so well. The previous OA production of Don Giovanni had already explored some of these elements; this time we get something a little more self-assured, without that nerdy pretentiousness one sometimes gets from purists, who would make claims for authenticity. True, there are choices that might make some balk, such as being condemned to a single tenor aria –the way Mozart intended—rather than the two great tunes to which we’ve become accustomed. But if one is not a slave to custom one escapes the redundant display in the last act for each of the soprano divas, thereby transforming the opera into an even better score. The result is fun in ways I never might have expected, generating laughs in places I used to understand as dark or even tragic.
Marshall Pynkoski seems to be going in the opposite direction from the rest of the operatic world. Where most producers seem to be aiming to modernize opera by super-imposing their own readings, often at the expense of the original, Pynkoski probes the text in a quest for the genuine Don. His is a fun reading propelled as much by the fast tempi of conductor Stefano Montanari, as by the agility inspired by the OA ballet and their usual attention to an elegant movement vocabulary.
The entire cast is either young or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Phillip Addis is a believable rake, a Don commanding the stage at all times, with a voice to match. But this is a Don without apology, whose killing of the Commendatore is surprisingly sympathetic, given that he is ambushed and forced to fight by the old man’s armed retinue. The tone of the entire opera is changed as a result. In contrast, Vasil Garvanliev’s Leporello is down to earth and physically very fluid, always seeking a laugh and usually knowing exactly where to find it..
I’ve seen Donna Anna played as the serious lover, while Donna Elvira is a comic foil. This time both Meghan Lindsay as Donna Anna and Peggy Kriha Dye as Donna Elvira have comic highlights. Dye and Lindsay are completely deadpan, often leaving Addis to trigger laughs with his exasperated expressions.
Dependable OA stalwart Curtis Sullivan came through as a persuasive Commendatore, powerful in his re-appearance at the end of the opera, yet rejuvenated in his other portrayal, as Masetto. The most successful singing of the night came from his partner Carla Huhtanen as Zerlina. Perhaps it’s not fair to address singing in a dress rehearsal, not just because when singers conserve their vocal resources, mindful of their opening less than two days away; but also because some of these roles are more demanding than others. Even so Huhtanen displayed her usual flawless intonation, clear diction, and likeable stage presence.
I don’t want to spoil one of the great joys of the production –namely the visit by the Stone Guest– except to say that Gerard Gauci created old-fashioned magic through pure theatricality. The end of the opera is wonderfully climactic in a wholly traditional way to satisfy any purist.
Montanari held everything together with his wonderfully fluid gestures, his exquisite keyboard play, including several elegant elaborations during numbers, and above all, a sensitivity to the singers. In the sweet confines of the Elgin Theatre, there was never a moment when a singer was covered or text was lost to Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Saturday they’ll be doing it again full voice. I’m looking forward to it.
Opera Atelier’s new production of Don Govanni opens Saturday Oct 29th, running to November 5th.