Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Susanna Phillips and Gustav Andreassen star in "Don Giovanni."

"DON GIOVANNI," UTAH OPERA, Capitol Theatre, Saturday; through May 18 (355-2787)

The genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart can be appreciated fully in his operas and specifically those he wrote with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. While Mozart left his mark on symphonic and chamber music and brought it to its 18th century culmination and opened the door to the following century's romanticism, it is in his operas where he left his greatest legacy.

The three operas Mozart wrote to da Ponte's librettos ("Le Nozze di Figaro," "Don Giovanni" and "Cosi fan Tutte") are wonderful comedies filled with memorable characters and delicious social satire. They reveal the foibles of men and women, and while not always depicting them in the best light (in particular the nobility gets a going over), they are real, dynamic and vibrant.

This week, "Don Giovanni" is back at the Capitol Theatre, the first time in 11 years Utah Opera has presented what is ostensibly Mozart's greatest stage work. The production runs through May 18 and features some wonderful singers, as well as a few who aren't quite up to their roles.

The best voices belong to baritone Mark Schnaible (Leporello) and mezzo-soprano Deanne Meek (Donna Elvira).

Schnaible has a wonderfully lyrical voice that also has dramatic power when needed. As an actor he brings the right amount of comedy to his role, and throughout the evening on opening night he was a pleasure to watch.

Meek has a beautifully rich and warm voice. She brought dignity to her character, and although Donna Elvira is a tragic figure, having fallen in love with Don Giovanni only to be abandoned by him, she doesn't wallow in self-pity.

Baritone Christopher Schaldenbrand in the title role is rather a disappointment. While he has a fine voice, he did seem to have trouble with his low register. As an actor, his portrayal was one-dimensional and anemic. Why any woman would fall under his spell is a mystery.

Soprano Susanna Phillips (Donna Anna) has an overpowering voice that became annoying as the evening wore on. Tenor Ryan MacPherson (Don Ottavio) was quite good and very likable and surprisingly held his own in duets with Phillips.

Bass Gustav Andreassen (Commendatore) was impressive in the Act II finale. But unfortunately, the same cannot be said of soprano Shannon Kessler (Zerlina) and bass Chad Sloan (Masetto). Their singing was weak and matched their insipid portrayals of their characters.

Conductor Robert Tweten made some interesting and questionable tempo choices. He took certain sections slow where one wouldn't have expected it, allowing the action onstage to drag, while other sections were taken too fast, forcing the singers to hold on for dear life.

The members of the Utah Symphony playing in the pit this week gave a strong and commendable performance.


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