New & Improved Don Giovanni

I saw Opera Atelier’s revival of Don Giovanni that’s running at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.  I loved it last time & it continues to thrill me as though it weren’t an opera I’ve known since childhood.

But it feels new.  The headline might sound like an oxymoron if you remember that OA aim for historicity & authenticity.  As usual we hear the gentle Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, easier on the ear & the kinder to voices of the singers aiming to be heard. We’re watching the dancers of Opera Atelier’s ballet corps, and the entire cast moving with at least a nod towards the period.

But while the look is authentic, if you look closer you see a few interesting improvements. Marshall Pynkoski frames this work around Mozart’s own understanding of the opera as something comical, rather than the accumulated weight of centuries of romantic interpretations.

Pynkoski isn’t afraid to prioritize the needs of his audience, so (as in the previous Opera Atelier production) he only gives us one of the two tenor arias, which is simply logical when we recall that Mozart only added the second one as a substitute for a difficult aria, not in addition, as modern producers inevitably will do.

More intriguing was the decision to segue directly from the graveyard scene to the finale, cutting the competing prima donna arias (“mi trade quell’ alma ingrata” from Donna Elvira and the scene between Donna Anna & Don Ottavio) that always have made me find that last act leaden and wayyy too long. No that’s not something Mozart would have seen or likely approved of in his own century but even so: thank you Marshall!

The last time I saw this production with a different cast, it was years before #MeToo, before Jian Ghomeshi, when an opera about a seducer didn’t ruffle so many feathers. I think this time the emphasis on comedy is subtler, the style closer to what we usually see in a Don Giovanni, in deference to current sensitivities. Meghan Lindsay’s Donna Anna has the biggest cojones of anyone onstage, as heroic vocally as she is fierce in defense of her virtue. Carla Huhtanen sounds as though she’s moved up to a bigger more powerful vocal classification, the sound spectacularly strong yet as accurate & expressive as usual.

Colin Ainsworth sounded bigger than ever, even while making it sound easy, and with a comical dimension in our last view of him (when Donna Anna would prolong their engagement with a year of mourning). Stephen Hegedus as Leporello was a favorite in a huge role that’s even harder with Opera Atelier’s emphasis on movement.

Zerlina & Masetto, played by Mireille Asselin (who gets to sing the best tunes all night) & Olivier Laquerre (who is mad as hell all night, until they kiss & make up) were wonderfully sympathetic. Gustav Andreassen offers a bookend to the show, as the Commendatore to begin things and as the Stone Guest to finish off the Don, with a voice to match the weight of his role.

Douglas Williams is an especially strong Don Giovanni vocally, making the entire show credible with his youthful presence. The opera is immediately problematic if he doesn’t seem attractive, if we don’t see why women would throw themselves at him.  The show clicks from the word go because of the amazing chemistry between Williams & Hegedus, and catches fire whenever we’re watching & listening to the two powerful female leads (Lindsay & Huhtanen).


L-R Meghan Lindsay, Colin Ainsworth, Stephen Hegedus, Olivier Laquerre, Douglas Williams, Carla Huhtanen & Mireille Asselin (Photo: Bruce Zinger)

The key to this show is David Fallis, leading a gossamer soft reading from Tafelmusik, never covering the singers, always light & quick. The music sounds fresh in this reading, as though Fallis had reinvented the score for us.

We’re watching a production with set by Gerard Gauci & costumes from the late Martha Mann, who passed away in the spring: to whom the production is dedicated.

Opera Atelier’s Don Giovanni continues until November 9th at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

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