Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Don GiovanniMinnesota Opera
Also see Arty's recent reviews of Our Town, The Wanderers and Othello: The Remix
Beyond the genius of Mozart's work and the excellence with which it is performed, the casting for this production is outstanding. Every one of the eight featured roles possesses a beautiful voice, adding to the luster of the score (sung in Italian with English supertitles) while also conveying the essence of their character through stage presence and movement, truly engaged not only in singing but in telling a story. The stage direction by Keturah Stickann works around a revolving set piece to maintain continual action on stage. Transitions from one scene to the next occur without ever pausing so that our engagement with the narrative similarly never flags.
The stage design by Liliana Duque Piñeiro, costumes designed by Sarah Bahr, and lighting designed by Mary Shabatura are all splendid and contribute to the majesty of the production. The narrative calls for several scenes of intimacy and of fighting, and Doug Scholz-Carlson handles his assignment as intimacy and fight director with expert aplomb.
With the mention of the intimacy and fighting contained in Don Giovanni, I must note that I am not actually a fan of the story this opera tells (libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte). Don Giovanni is no hero. Far from it, he is a nobleman who uses his privilege to wantonly seduce and abandon women. By his own account, he is irresistible to women, but we see that not all of his sexual encounters are consensual. He also has no qualms about dispensing violence to protect himself from facing any consequences for his acts. The intent of Don Giovanni is not to glorify his behavior, but to confer a lesson on the outcome waiting such villains. The original title in 1787 when the play premiered in Prague was Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni, literally translated as The Rake Punished, or Don Giovanni. It should be no spoiler, then, to report that in the end he reaps his punishment, in an act that drew some applause from audience members even as the orchestra kept playing and cast members regrouped for the subsequent scene.
While Giovanni's antics may have amused audiences in the eighteenth century and well into the twentieth, many in the audience today may have trouble accepting him as a comic or semi-tragic figure in light of the pain he willfully inflicts on others. His boast that his wanton pursuit of women is a virtue, because "to be faithful to one would be to deny the others," puts him in the same box as current figures in the realms of entertainment, business and politics who have gotten away with such deeds for far too long.
In this production an opening scene is performed during the overture, before the first sung notes are heard, that depicts Giovanni entering Donna Anna's chamber at night and forcing himself upon her as she struggles with all her might to resist. As Giovanni flees the scene (this is where the sung opera begins), her screams awaken her father, the Commendatore, who steps out to capture Donna Anna's attacker and is killed by Don Giovanni's knife. In depicting these events we are aware from the beginning what a miscreant Giovanni is. As written, the opera has Donna Anna describe this event to her fiancé Ottavio at a later time, but does not have the audience actually bear witness to it.
In bearing witness, we understand that Don Giovanni is not merely a raffish scoundrel, but a demon in the guise of a gentleman. While subsequent scenes in which he encounters Donna Elvira, a jilted former lover who seeks revenge; schemes to seduce a country bride, Zerlina, away from her fiancé, Masetto; and forces his hapless servant Leporello to be his accomplice in a plan to seduce Donna Elvira's maid, are lighter in tone, we already know that Don Giovanni is not a creature of lightness.
Seth Carico as Don Giovanni, gives a masterful performance, swaggering and unrepentant as he pursues a life of pleasure at the expense of any woman unfortunate enough to catch his fancy. Singing the part with a confident baritone, Carico depicts Giovanni in all his despicable arrogance and selfishness, his ease with dispensing violence and deceiving women, yet possessing the ability to charm that makes his initial appeal to women believable.
Sara Gartland is another standout in the cast as Donna Elvira, her strong soprano wavering between her pursuit of revenge and regret at losing this man who had stolen her heart. She conveys assertiveness in directing others while lacking the resolve to follow her own advice. Thomas Glass is totally winning as the servant Leporello, his baritone vividly expressing the predicament he faces, with Don Giovanni's misadventures putting him repeatedly in danger.
Symone Harcum's deeply expressive soprano conveys the despair felt by Donna Anna after losing first her honor and then her father to this force of evil. As her fiancé Don Ottavio, Efraín Corralejo is wonderful, his soothing tenor repeatedly providing Donna Anna with comfort, and his yearning for her to marry him the moment of the most beautiful aria in the entire piece. Leah Brzyski brings a sprightly openness to the role of Zerlina, and Charles H. Eaton's baritone expresses her fiancé Masetto's manly but fruitless efforts to fend off Don Giovanni. Allen Michael Jones's role as Donna Anna's slain father, the Commendatore, is fairly brief but his resonant bass makes a powerful impression.
As I started off, Don Giovanni is one of Mozart's most masterful works, which is saying a great deal about it, and in its execution, this Minnesota Opera production brings forth all of its beauty and grandeur, along with the humor–it is, after all, classified as a comic opera. And in the end, the bad guy does meet his just desserts. If you can bear that in mind while working through some of the more unsavory behaviors and attitudes the work depicts, you will be rewarded by a presentation of great opera that marks the highpoint of an altogether successful 2022-2023 Minnesota Opera season.
Note: Because of the brutal nature of the opening scene, Minnesota Opera's management is allowing late seating after the overture for those patrons who do not wish to view the scene.
Don Giovanni continues through May 21, 2023, at Minnesota Opera, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington Street, Saint Paul MN. Tickets: $53 - $325. Youth tickets (age 20 and below) available at Patron Services, $20. Rush tickets: unsold tickets 90 minutes before performance time are half price; Youth Rush tickets (age 20 and below) are $10. A $3 facility fee is added to all tickets. For tickets and information, please call 612-333-6699 or visit www.mnopera.org.
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte; Conductor: Mario Antonio Marra; Stage Director and Choreographer: Keturah Stickann; Scenic Design: Liliana Duque Piñeiro; Costume Design: Sarah Bahr; Lighting Design: Mary Shabatura; Hair and Make-Up Design: Priscilla Bruce; Intimacy and Fight Director: Doug Scholz-Carlson; Head of Music and Assistant Conductor: Mario Antonio Marra; Principal Coach and Chorus Director: Celeste Marie Johnson; Répétiteur: Erica Guo; Assistant Stage Director: Margaret Jumonville; Stage Manager: Kerry Masek.
Cast: Leah Brzyski (Zerlina), Seth Carico (Don Giovanni), Efraín Corralejo (Don Ottavio), Charles H. Eaton (Masetto), Sara Gartland (Donna Elvira), Thomas Glass (Leporello), Symone Harcum (Donna Anna), Allen Michael Jones (Commendatore).