Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Don GiovanniSt. Petersburg Opera Company
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of The Play That Goes Wrong and Between Riverside and Crazy


Gustavo Feulien, Rachael Marino, Kelly Curtin,
and Chelsea Lehnea

Photo Courtesy of St. Petersburg Opera Company
St. Petersburg Opera Company opens its 2018-19 season with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni. The Don and I have a long history together, my first time seeing it was when I was in junior high school, by Sarah Caldwell's Opera Company in Boston and starring Donald Gramm. Another fabled production I saw was the very first incarnation of director Peter Sellars' vision of this piece in Manchester, New Hampshire, with almost the same cast that later performed at the Pepsico Festival in upstate New York where it was committed to video.

St. Petersburg Opera Company is artistically on par with smaller European opera houses where one encounters all manner of quality—sometimes quite good, other times uneven is the kindest way to put it. I have seen this company tackle several pieces that try the resources of bigger companies with great success. This Don Giovanni is a mixed bag.

The Palladium Theater presents staging problems because the orchestra has to be placed at the rear, stage center. This company has staged more daunting operas successfully despite the challenges. But Karl Hesser's stage direction fails to keep the action clear, and worse, draws no distinction between the nobles (Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio) and the peasants (Zerlina and Masetto). Don Giovanni and Leporello's relationship is a complex one because they are constantly challenging each other. None of this is clear from the staging.

All of the singing is quite good, some of it more than that, but their are some stylistic issues. Mozart singing is not the same as the bel canto style of Rossini and Donizetti. There is 50 years between the premiere of Don Giovanni (October 1787) and one of the staples of bel canto, Lucia di Lammermoor (premiered September 1835). Ideal Mozart singing requires a leaner, more classical sense of the music's movement. This most affects Chelsea Lehnea as Donna Anna and Sean Christensen as Don Ottavio.

Gustavo Feulien as Giovanni sings the part well and has great stage presence. I understand why he had 1003 conquests in Spain. As his sidekick Leporello, Christopher Nazarian delivers a wonderful catalog aria and is effective across this extensive part. The physical interactions between master and servant are well done, though I really did get a bit confused which was which when they exchange identities at the top of act two. Chelsea Lehnea and Sean Christensen are fine singers, just probably more stylistically effective in later repertoire. Neither has quite mastered the elegance of bearing that an aristocrat would have had. Rachael Marino steals the upper reaches of this opera as Donna Elvira, her singing and bearing elegant and a fine Mozart stylist. She gets the last bow (of the aristocrats) when that traditionally goes to Donna Anna, who is the prima donna with Elvira being the secondo donna.

Our rustic couple, Zerlina and Masetto, are Kelly Curtin and Adam Cioffari. She is pert, a little heavy on the soubrette mannerisms for my tastes but very effective. He sings the part very well but is too charmingly handsome when Masetto is supposed to be a bit of a lout. Erik Kroncke as the Commendatore doesn't come into his own until the last scene, a little dull in the opening scene as Anna's father and lacking the darkness of a solid low register for the graveyard scene. He scores big in the final confrontation when he lets all the darkness in his voice loose.

At the performance I attended, Maestro Mark Sforzini and the orchestra had a misfire, the chords, drawn from the graveyard scene which famously open the overture, were a blur and the orchestra did not fully recover until after the allegro maestoso, about two and a half minutes in. I think it would have been better if Maestro had aborted and started over, something I once saw Sarah Caldwell do after an equally ragged beginning. Audiences are very forgiving. After the Maestro and orchestra pulled themselves together, they returned to form and delivered a very finely played afternoon, usual for this company.

Scenic design is by Shane Cinal, not particularly interesting, but it gives the director two playing areas above the stage which he makes effective use of. Costume designer Glenn A. Breed and wigs and makeup designer Brittany Rappise produce reasonable results, exciting only for Don Giovanni and Leporello. Lighting designer Keith Arsenault effectively lights this morality tale, with a nice effect when Giovanni is dispatched to hell.

St. Petersburg Opera Company is a treasured resource, producing quite decent productions of mostly familiar repertory, a great situation for audiences to see live opera at quite reasonable prices. This is a Don Giovanni which many years ago I would have been happy to encounter as a first live look at a masterpiece.

The rest of the season for St. Petersburg Opera Company looks exciting, Kiss Me, Kate in February, 2/3 of Puccini's Il trittico (although I am personally mourning Il Tabarro being left behind) in May, and Madama Butterfly in June.

St. Petersburg Opera Company's Don Giovanni, through October 23, 2018, at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N., St. Petersburg FL. For more information see www.stpeteopera.org.

Cast (in order of appearance):
Leporello: Christopher Nazarian
Don Giovanni: Gustavo Feulien
Donna Anna: Chelsea Lehnea
Il Commendatore: Erik Kroncke
Don Ottavio: Sean Christensen
Donna Elvira: Rachael Marino
Zerlina: Kelly Curtin
Masetto: Adam Cioffari
Dancers: Alejandro Donowa, Daniel Johnson and Vanessa Russo


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