BWW Review: DON GIOVANNI Gets a Topically Modern and Classically Lavish Production
In this revival of Opera Atelier's 2011 DON GIOVANNI, questions of morality combat comedy in perfect harmony. Under director Marshall Pynkoski, this retelling of the tale of the Don examines his lifestyle as a full-time seducer and contrasts it against the ideals of the women he's loved and left (and their men).
This production sees several numbers cut to bring it to a runtime of about three hours; a decision that keeps the action moving and the story engaging, but one that might upset die-hard fans At it's core, this is a fantastic take on the opera buffa - the tongue-in-cheek approach taken by the full ensemble, and even the set (set design by Gerard Gauci, whose warm tones and lifelike illusions enrich the story) breathes life into a story with some uncomfortable moments centred on the treatment of women.
Given the anti-hero nature of Don Giovanni (Douglas Williams), the titular character requires a specific kind of execution to make him likeable enough to enjoy watching - and unlikeable enough to deserve his fate. Williams is on point throughout, playing the Don as both oblivious to his own shortcomings and confident enough to make the audience forget them too.
Of course, every hero needs a sidekick, and if Don Giovanni is an anti-hero then his accomplice should be equally immoral; thankfully, in this production the servant Leporello (Stephen Hegedus) is as fickle with his personal beliefs as the Don is with women. Hegedus is a phenomenal anti-wingman to Williams's nobleman, with impeccable comedic timing and an inherent likeability.
DON GIOVANNI might be named for a man who conquers women, but it's the women he's wronged who shine most in this production. The action kicks off when the Don kills Donna Anna's (Meghan Lindsay) father, the commendatore (sung and acted in a stately manner by Gustav Andreassen). From then on, Anna swears vengeance on the murderer and brings her well-meaning fiancé Don Ottavio (Colin Ainsworth) along for the ride. Both work well off one another, but the power behind Lindsay's voice does wonders even in the Ed Mirvish Theatre, which is not an ideal location for un-mic'd voices.
The to-be-wed Zerlina (Mireille Asselin) and Masetto (Oliver Laquerre) are endlessly entertaining, their bickering leading to sweet moments at unexpected times. Laquerre's Masetto is jealous of the Don's interest in Zerlina, but doesn't come across as ignorant or controlling; he clearly cares for her and has distaste for the entitlement nobility often possess. Asselin is a picture- and pitch-perfect Zerlina; she brings tons of energy to her performance. The story is set in Italy, and it's Asselin's little characteristics - the hand waving, the somewhat-friendly slapping, and the speaking with her hands - that sell the location even more than the Italian-sung libretto.
If Donna Anna is Giovanni's present and Zerlina his potential future, then Donna Elvira (Carla Huhtanen) is the avenging ghost of conquests past, crucifix and dagger in hand. Huhtanen toes the line between endearingly kind-hearted and comedically feral throughout the show, on top of her continuously stellar vocal performances.
The entire ensemble sounds wonderful together and have a natural chemistry that makes this wild story a believable one. Dancing is a large component in DON GIOVANNI and was integrated seamlessly under the direction of Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, and the intricate, gorgeous costumes (costume design by the late Martha Mann) are as engaging to the eyes as Mozart's music is to the ears (Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, conducted by David Fallis).
While DON GIOVANNI is a cautionary tale of immortality and immorality, it takes a more comedic approach than one might expect; and at a time where discussions of consent, gender equality, and sexual harassment dominate our culture, Opera Atelier's production seems to take advantage of the original material while still updating and editing the story for a modern audience. There are moments that are uncomfortable, scenarios that are funny, and situations that lie in both fields; one thing is certain, though, and that's that this DON GIOVANNI is a colourful look at grey-area topics.
Opera Atelier's DON GIOVANNI runs through November 9 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.operaatelier.com/season-and-tickets/2019-2020/mozart-don-giovanni
Photo credit: Bruce Zinger