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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Opera Review: The Death Trip

Don Giovanni at New York City Opera.
Stefania Dovhan and her father's bloodstain in Don Giovanni.
Photo by Carol Rosegg © 2009 New York City Opera.

Don Giovanni, a bold, dramatic interpretation that re-imagines Mozart's dramma giocoso as a meditation on life and death which takes place entirely in one room, possibly during the funeral service for the Commendatore.

By putting all the actors onstage during the overture, the director forces the audience to "play detective" and figure out who everybody is as the drama develops. But there was no missing the excellent assembly of voices present on the stage of the David I. Koch Theater on Friday night.

Daniel Okulitch and Jason Hardy have pleasing baritone voices, and they both carry off the sexual, physical nature of this staging. In fact, the two singers brought an erotic charge to the interactions of the Don and his servant Leporello. The jealous tension between them was played as if the Don's dalliances with thousands of women was merely him "stepping out" on a primary relationship--with his servant.

Stefania Dovhan was just one of the fine young voices who had to fend off the Don. Her Donna Anna is less the frigid avenging angel and more of a three-dimensional woman who knows that she is stuck with Don Ottavio (the pleasing tenor Gregory Turay) but clearly, really wants the man who murdered her father to finish carrying her off. Keri Alkema was a compelling Donna Elvira, playing up the character's religious mania. And Joélle Harvey sang a stunning Zerlina. The most sexual woman in the entire opera, she adroitly balanced her relations with the Don with attempting to appease her jealous, raging husband Masetto (Kelly Markgraf.)

The staging of this opera breaks with convention and tradition. There is no statue. Rather, the Commendatore (bass Brian Kontes) is brought onstage in his coffin, complete with mourners, wreaths and a big neon crucifix. Leporello literally invites the corpse to dinner in the funeral home. The Don dines, carouses, and even fornicates on the dead man's grave. Finally, when the hour of vengeance comes, the good Commendatore rises out of his coffin, takes the Don by his hand, and throws him into the grave.

That's right. There's no statue in this Don Giovanni.

The Commendatore, triumphant over his murderer, remains standing on the stage--like a statue. Meanwhile, Donna Elvira writhes in a religious vision, and Leporello suddenly "gets religion", holding up a prayer book in hopes that he won't be dragged down too. There is no fire, no angels and demons, just the terror of the grave. It's a bold solution to one of the trickiest finales in all of opera.

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