Soundings: Opera in Williamsburg's "Don Giovanni" delivers top-notch singing

Special to the Gazette

Opera in Williamsburg (OiW) defies the most common expectations of the opera genre.

It is not opera as generally perceived or anticipated. Essentially, OiW holds to a minimum, costumes, scenery, musical accompaniment and lighting.The productions bring to mind a blend of a studio performance and a concert version of a larger, more comprehensive work.There are several likely reasons why OiW holds back on these normally taken-for-granted qualities associated with opera, some of them probably being fiscal, some mandated by the Kimball Theatre's limited stage space.

What OiW does not hold back on, however, is the most critical ingredient that makes up engaging opera and that's the singing, a point of constancy made by OiW founder and artistic director Naama Zahavi-Ely.Toward that end, OiW brings to the stage singers who have had notable experiences in the larger world of opera as well as young, emerging singers on an upward trajectory.

This was again evident in OiW's first of two performances for its 2015-16 season, Mozart's "Don Giovanni," which opened at the Kimball last Friday.Considered by many to be one of the top ten most popular operas of all times, the basic plot stems around a Don Juan type who seduces just about every skirt that passes his way, kills the father of one of his conquests, and, in the end, is dragged to hell by the cold hand of that father.

Although the basic theme of unrestrained seduction of women is serious business, "Giovanni" offers ample humor through comedic characterizations and situational context, all aspects of which were smartly designed and executed.

The seven primary singers were on top of their games, each delivering excellent results.Meredith Hansen (Donna Anna), Elinor Sohn (Donna Elvira) and Emily Misch (Zerlina) sported light and lovely sopranos that supported lyrical lines and met coloratura challenges.Baritone Stefanos Koroneos was amusing as Giovanni's sidekick, Leporello, although the lower reaches of his range occasionally seemed to resist his aim.Suchan Kim offered a swaggering, self-assured Giovanni and a warm, richly developed baritone.As Don Ottavio, Sean Christensen's tenor was fluid and focused.And area resident Branch Fields again put his large, perfectly rounded, high quality bass to superb use as both the Commendatore and Masetto.

Aside from the non-singing background people ("spear carriers" in opera jargon), who often appeared aimless, Laura Alley-Dietrich's stage direction was excellently conceived.She skillfully crafted movement from limited working space that, along with the smartly utilized screen projections, provided degrees of depth to the production.

Since the Kimball has zero space for an orchestra, it relies on a salon-sized ensemble which, here, included a viola, cello, two violins and a piano.The results were professional and polished and succeeded in relaying the appeal of Mozart's score.

Coordinating all thing musical between the ensemble and the singers, easily within sneezing distance, was Richard Cordova, who also supplied continuo line from a keyboard.His work was controlled and coordinated and allowed the action and music to flow freely and quite successfully.The nearly full house rewarded the efforts behind this "Don Giovanni" with a sustained and standing ovation.

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