'Don Giovanni' lives up to its reputation

Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” is one of the best known and loved operas of all times. Despite Viennese society not caring much for it on its initial hearing, it’s withstood the test of time and is still, 231 years after its debut, at the top of the list — an opera with instant name fame. Plus, it’s a perfect example of Mozart‘s perfection of craft.

Fashioned after legendary Don Juan and his sexual exploits, “Giovanni,” which played Sunday in Richmond’s Carpenter Theatre, combines comedy, drama and a ghostly touch in a delightful telling of the exploits carried out by the rogue whose name is this opera.

Although there are obvious contemporary political and social implications inspired by the #MeToo movement, esteemed director Lillian Groag chose not to make a statement but to play it straight by nurturing good, solid operatic entertainment that, so to speak, speaks for itself.

Having said that, however, and under today’s lens of awareness, it’s hard not to wonder why Giovanni’s gals put up with his antics and actually wanted more loving while protesting otherwise. Love-hate to be sure. Also not in line with today’s thinking is the fact that this skirt-chasing Giovanni is quite likable, although that‘s the way librettist Lorenzo da Ponte wrote it.

Sure, Giovanni’s latest dastardly deed results in the death of the Commendatore, Donna Anna’s father, and leads to Giovanni’s ultimate descent into hell. But, it’s evident that his conquests and his manservant pine for him, as do we, most particularly given Giovanni’s portrayal by tenor Tobias Greenhalgh.

Greenhalgh is the perfect Giovanni. He’s got an assured swagger, he’s handsome, he’s sexy, he’s a crackerjack actor, and he also sings really, really well. He’s the total package and one that the packed house bought hook, line and sinker.

His every moment on stage was vocally and dramatically engaging, closely followed by bass-baritone Zachary Altman, whose manservant Leporello assists Giovanni, willingly and otherwise, in his exploits. Altman’s comic timing was exquisite, his pairing with Greenhalgh a perfect match and dynamite duo.

Among Giovanni’s nearly 2,000 conquests are Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and peasant girl Zerlina, sung, respectively, by soprano Rachelle Durkin and mezzos Sarah Larsen and Melisa Bonetti. Bonetti brought a pleasant quality to her singing and delightful characterization of innocence, while Durkin and Larsen, both with Metropolitan Opera experience, offered powerhouse voices that more than filled the hall. They are really powerful singers who also delivered fine performances as jilted (but wanting more) lovers.

Likewise superb were baritone Evan Bravos as Masetto, Zerlina’s beau, tenor Stephen Carroll, Donna Anna’s beau, and rich bass-baritone Nathan Stark whose brief but important moments as the Commendatore were appropriately commanding.

This was an exceptional cast in every respect. Groag’s skill at shaping characters is tops, attention being given to the most subtle of movements to enhance total impact. Plus, she moves her players carefully and strategically, making the most of stage space.

Also aiding effective use of stage space was Erhard Rom’s splendid set, panels of which fluidly moved back and forth to create “Giovanni’s” many scenes. Enhancing that was Kenneth Steadman’s smart lighting design, most notably the finale wherein the base of the Commendatore’s tomb opens and devours Giovanni in a spectacular wall of flame.

Adam Turner led members of the Virginia Symphony with a solid hand, expertly coordinating music between the pit and the stage, while allowing Mozart’s brilliant score to shine. This was a “Giovanni” of note that would be hard to match for sheer pleasure and perfection.

Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for more than 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman’s “Murder at the Opera.”

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette
39°