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BWW Review: Seattle Opera Streams DON GIOVANNI

The Philanderer Gets His Just Desserts

BWW Review: Seattle Opera Streams DON GIOVANNI On March 5, 2021, Seattle Opera presented Mozart's Don Giovanni to its worldwide online audience. The overture opened with orchestral chords, but that was the only orchestral sound heard at this performance. Soon, we heard the far less opulent sound of the piano(s) that played the rest of the opera. Stage director Brenna Corner notes that the 1964 Hamlet on Broadway directed by Richard Burton inspired her to do this black-and-white film production and use it to communicate the opera's basic premise. Designer Doug Provost's set and Costume Designer Liesl Alice Gatcheco's clothing gave a sense of place, but no outfit was specific. Provost and Corner say they intended their abstract setting, consisting of platforms with plain pipe railings, to put the opera's drama front and center. It worked, too, but the result produced no eye candy.

Seattle Opera cut some scenes and arias because of COVID-19 regulations. For example, the Act II Dinner Scene requires a chorus and a display of food, both of which were prohibited by pandemic restrictions. Corner cut the fight scene as well, since fighters could not stay a reasonable distance from each other. Corner and Maestro Lidiya Yankovskaya also omitted less important recitatives so as to focus on the main aspects of the story. Technically, the piece ran extremely well, something not seen everywhere in this time of change. Jonathan Dean's titles were very well translated into modern English and they told the story of the opera in a most understandable manner. This opera has always been far ahead of its time and the Seattle company took full advantage of that fact.

An orchestra or even an ensemble of ten to twenty instruments blends with singers' voices and transforms their sound into the aural honey that so many opera lovers want to hear. Many big voices, such as those needed to sing in Seattle Opera's usual auditorium are somewhat less graceful when singing full voice with piano and Robertson Witmer's sound design did little to deal with this problem.

Jared Bybee was an intense, menacing Don Giovanni with riveting stage presence and his character was one we sometimes see among wealthy men of great privilege. His only aria was the serenade and unfortunately he and the music box with which he supposedly sings could not agree on tempi. Perhaps the discrepancy was intended to show the workings of an ancient music box versus the human voice. As Leporello, Michael Sumuel was an amusing servant who sang with a rich timbre and sweet-sounding focussed tones that were a balm on the ear with or without instrumental accompaniment. His "Catalogue Aria," rang with sumptuous overtones. I loved the ability to see his book on the screen.

As Donna Anna, Vanessa Goikoetxea was a visibly wronged noble lady who sang her fierce vengeance aria with robust tones and a confident technique. Her escort, Don Ottavio, sung by Andrew Stenson, portrayed his character as a man who loved his fiancée more as a friend than as a lover.

Laura Wilde, who sang a memorable Jenufa in Santa Fe two years ago, was a distraught Donna Elvira at first, but her anger subsided as she realized the tragedy that was about to befall him. It was fascinating to watch her create and maintain this complex character. Even as Elvira began to be sympathetic to the Don, she realized that Zerlina's marriage could be ruined by a few false moves and she warned the young bride.

Jasmine Habersham was an energetic, seductive ingenue with dramatic presence who sang with crystalline sounds. She sang her aria "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" ("Beat me, Beat me, Handsome Masetto")with tongue in cheek so it was not a serious invitation to domestic violence. Adam Lau, as her groom, Masetto, forgave her frivolous actions and responded to the Don's overtures with as much manly action as a peasant would dare show in his situation. The Commendatore, who sings a few lines and is killed at the beginning of the opera, returns as a deep-voiced ghost at the end. Kenneth Kellogg sang with great resonance and looked like a soldier from a long lost war.

Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya led the performance with brisk, crisp tempi and encouraged singers to use long phrases. She is an excellent conductor and I hope to listen to her lead a full orchestra in the not-too-distant future. Don Giovanni is available for $35 until the end of March.

Photo of Jared Bybee as Don Giovanni. courtesy of Seattle Opera.

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From This Author Maria Nockin