Review: Festival's Don Giovanni

By Hillary Bowler

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, July 13 2011 4:14 p.m. MDT

"DON GIOVANNI," by the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, through Aug. 6; tickets $12-$76, visit http://ufomt.org/; running time, three hours (including a 20-miunute intermission)

LOGAN – Despite a rainy morning, the city’s Main Street was bustling with people July 7. Shops had sidewalk sales under makeshift tents and pavilions, taking advantage of the visitors here to see the opera.

The Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre had officially kicked off its season the night before, and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” opened in the Ellen Eccles Theatre that afternoon.

“Don Giovanni” is named for the infamous, womanizing Giovanni and his ultimate demise. The plot of the opera is based around his escapades with women he seduced (640 in Italy, 231 in Germany, 1,003 in Spain, etc.)

In the beginning of the opera, Giovanni attacks Donna Anna and kills her father, the Commendatore. Don Ottavio, Donna Anna’s betrothed, swears vengeance for Giovanni’s deeds. Ottavio is not the only one out to get Giovanni. Donna Elvira is another key character, a previous conquest and part of Giovanni’s nearly endless list. She’s come to either win him back or be his end. Zerlina is a sweet peasant girl, about to be married to Masetto, and whom Giovanni immediately attempts to seduce. Needless to say, with themes of infidelity, murder and betrayal, this is not a story for small children.

“Giovanni” is often categorized as an “opera buffa,” or comic opera. While it mixes other dramatic and supernatural elements, the story is often presented in a comical way. The numbers of women Giovanni has snatched, for instance, are an obvious hyperbole used by librettist Lorenzo da Ponte in his social commentary.

An adult audience would readily appreciate the grand dramatic performance put on by UFOMT.

With a cast made up of some of opera’s best, the performance was pleasing to the ears. Festival favorite Mark Womack’s baritone voice was smooth in a way that almost made his wicked character endearing. Rochelle Bard’s rich soprano voice easily handled the ornamentation and mournful arias of Donna Anna. Greek soprano Eleni Calenos proved to be an impressive powerhouse on the stage as a conflicted Donna Elvira.

Jordan Bluth gave an emotional performance as Ottavio, particularly in “Dalla sua paces,” in which his character vows to do anything for his love. Molly Mustonen and Gabriel Preisser were well-paired as Masetto and Zerlina, both commanding the spotlight with vocal talent regardless of being supporting characters. Kristopher Irmiter lent his thundering bass as the Commendatore adding the finishing touch on the final scenes that raised the hair on the back of my neck.

Stephanos Tsirakoglou nearly stole the show with his comedic performance as Giovanni’s reluctant right-hand man, Leporello. His character served as a liaison between audience and performance, and Tsirakoglou performed the task with incredible expression and timing. During the standing ovation at the end of the performance, the audience erupted when he came out to bow.

The greatest moment of the performance arguably was the final scene. UFOMT presented Mozart’s original, albeit shocking, ending. Shortly after the opera’s 1787 premiere, Mozart was asked to provide a vaudeville ending where all of the characters come out and sing a cheery song to make light of a devilish situation. The original ending was simple: the Commendantore returns to take Giovanni to Hell, and the curtain falls.

“It should give you the chills,” said Michael Ballam, general director of the festival. “We are doing everything in our power to give you the chills.”

It did. With a combination of creative costuming, fog machines, lighting, an orchestra rumbling from below and star Womack’s excellent acting, I was filled with dread about my own shortcomings. I certainly didn’t want that to happen to me. The opera successfully conveyed that actions have consequences.

The set was beautiful and functional, and there were few problems with scene changes. The company provides English supertitles above the stage so the opera can be performed in its original Italian. The supertitles lagged a few times, leaving the audience a little confused and missing moments of shock or laughter. Aside from that minor technological glitch and a few other flubs attributable to the cast and crew getting their bearings during the first performance, the opera was worthwhile.

It’s nice to see a performance with the quality and loyalty to the composer a work such as “Don Giovanni” deserves.

Email: hbowler@desnews.com

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