Support independent arts journalism by joining our Patreon! Currently $5/month.

About Superconductor

Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Opera Review: The Beast of Broad Street

Don Giovanni at Opera Philadelphia.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Don Giovanni (Elliot Madore) and Donna Anna (Michelle Johnson)
in Opera Philadelphia's new production of Don Giovanni.
Photo by Kelly and Massa © 2014 Opera Philadelphia.
There a lot of ways for directors to interpret Don Giovanni, the Mozart dramma giocoso that walks the line between comedy and tragedy. In telling the story of the libertine Spanish nobleman determined to bed every woman in Europe, director Nicholas Muni has reversed the usual method. Instead of showing the Don (Elliot Madore) as a frustrated, always-thwarted Lothario, Mr. Muni made him insatiable. In doing so, he attempted to show the Don as ultimately tragic, an ugly, insecure character who is ultimately a victim of his own "success" and his own at-large libido. This production, originally seen at the Cincinnati Opera, bowed at the Academy of Music on Friday night.

As conductor George Manahan dropped the first thundering chords of the overture, Don Ottavio was revealed prone on the stage beneath a portrait of Donna Anna. Behind a scrim, Leporello disguised his master as Ottavio, with red wig and green frock coat for that night's assault on Anna's virtue. And assault it was, premeditated, bold and ugly with some fine precision singing from the three leads. As the story developed. this Don was everywhere, adding women to his "catalogue" right and left. He fled from Donna Elvira (Amanda Majeski) He dallied with Zerlina (Cecilia Hall) And yes, he couldn't help himself--his second attempt to rape Donna Anna (see the above photo) led to her recognition of him as her father's murderer.

Throughout the opera, this Don and Leporello were chalk and cheese, played as a young rake with a schlubby older servant who reluctantly helps in his adventures in the hope of conquests of his very own. Mr. Madore's spitfire performance, with its machine-gun "Champagne" aria and dark, swaggering sexuality was the better of the two. Joseph Barron played Leporello as a traditional (not very interesting) fool, with a sluggish nature that only lifted in moments like the Catalogue Song. Moving back and forth on a stage filled with thrones, portraits and mirrored walls, the two dashed madly through what might have been the still-dreaming Ottavio's psyche, only for the hero to meet his fiery end in fairly conventional fashion.

Mozart wrote two great tenor arias for Don Ottavio, inserting one ("Dalla su pace") into the original Prague version of the opera and using the other ("Io mio tesoro") in the work's Vienna premiere. Here, both numbers were included, serving as a welcome showcase for David Portillo's supple lyric tenor. "Io mio tesoro" was moved to the beginning of the second act, Its new position (for I've never heard it in this spot before) also meant that for once, this lovely number  did not slow the momentum of the show. It also proved an effective curtain-raiser, prefacing the Don's dialogue with Leporello) that otherwise starts the act in media res.

Aside from the show's three female leads, Mr. Madore's Don dallied with a slew of sex partners. And true to the famous "catalogue" aria, they came in all shapes and sizes, from the typical young choral wenches present at the wedding of Masetto and Zerlina to  the raped and traumatized nun downstage during the Act I finale. The enthusiastic granny who shared the noble bed at the start of Act II proved to be an audience favorite. (She thwacked Leporello with a cane at the suggestion that the Don "give up women".) Even Donna Elvira's maid (usually an unseen character) appeared, a welcoming audience for "Deh viena alla finestra."

Michelle Johnson was the strongest of these leads, tackling the dizzy heights of her Act I aria ("Or sai chi l’onore") with a bold soprano that reached easily up through the difficult middle register for those thrilling high notes. However the subtleties of the Act II "Non mi dir" appeared to elude her. Her bright voice sang on pitch but merely hit the notes without the shifting subtleties and colors that let the listener into Donna Anna's innermost thoughts. Still, this is a promising artist who will be capable of much greater things.

Also promising: Amanda Majeski's plaintive Donna Elvira, with its small but potent mezzo soprano (A splendid "Mi tradi") and impassioned pleas with the Don right before the climactic scene. Better: Cecilia Hall's lyric, sweet Zerlina. Carefully accompanied by Mr. Manahan, her two arias were among the show's highlights, with a lovely tone and consolation for the angry (and later beaten) Masetto. Bass Wes Mason sometimes struggled ("Ho capito" sounded like it was expelled in one breath) but was otherwise sturdy in this role; his closeness with Zerlina was for once, believable. Bass Nicholas Masters was not an intimidating Commendatore (he was amplified for the graveyard scene) but glowered convincingly in the apocalyptic finale.

Trending on Superconductor


Share My Blog!

Share |

Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats