Don Giovanni with Seattle Opera’s Young Artists

Mozart, Don Giovanni: Seattle Opera Young Artists Program, soloists, members of the Auburn Symphony, Brian Garman (conductor), Peter Kazaras (director); Meydenbauer Center, Bellevue, WA, 1.4.2011 (BJ)

Time and again, directing operas as diverse as Tristan und Isolde, Falstaff, L’Enfant et les sortilèges, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Peter Kazaras has confounded expectation. Production concepts read about in advance have alarmed by virtue of their seeming perversity, only to bowl me over, when realized on stage, with their much more profound rightness.

But not this time. The man, I say again, is a genius, one of the most intelligent, creative, and sensitive directors working in opera today. But Homer is said to have nodded, and even the most brilliant director must be allowed an off night, which is what I have to call the production of Don Giovanni (in Mozart’s revised Vienna version) that Kazaras and his Young Artists offered in Bellevue’s Theatre at Meydenbauer Center.

It’s fair to guess that Kazaras’s original staging ideas must have been both more coherent and more convincing before budget stringencies intervened. In any event, on Donald Eastman’s bare set, there was no unity about the production. Bringing the story into a 20th-century setting inevitably led to glaring disparity between the graceful measures of Mozart’s dance numbers and the sleaziness of the sexily suggestive modern gyrations that the performers superimposed on them. The proliferation of firearms, which several characters toted, stood in contrast to the Commendatore’s wielding of a sword – though I suppose the difference could be taken to stress the latter’s old-fashioned nature.

Stretches of naturalistic acting intermittently gave place for no apparent reason to stylization. One long passage in the second act had the singers in silhouette gesticulating ritualistically against a dark blue background (though I should add that Connie Yun’s lighting was, in general, effective in a no doubt intentionally lurid way). The back wall was also used as a screen for projections of a variety of old film clips, which served more to distract from music and plot than to illuminate them. Doing the opera without chorus (its music supplied by a somewhat subfusc recording) created some nonsensical moments: addressed to just two persons, the instruction “Half of you go this way, half of you go that way” sounded silly. If the showing of a Mickey Mouse cartoon at the end of intermission had some deep significance, this critic is not clever enough to have understood it; but the projection of a large photograph to serve in place of an actual statue of the Commendatore was a perfectly acceptable touch of non-literalism.

Musically, there was much to enjoy. Brian Garman’s orchestra sounded less polished than usual, but Marcy Stonikas as Donna Anna, Erik Anstine as Leporello, Andrew Stenson as Don Ottavio (though got up to look like Peter Lorre in some sinister crime movie), Jacqueline Bezek as Zerlina, and Adrian Rosas doubling as Masetto and the Commendatore all displayed strong voices. Much of their singing, however, was not only too loud for a theater of Meydenbauer’s congenially modest size (“Dalla sua pace,” for instance, was given at a volume level far in excess of the single p that is the only dynamic marking in the score) but also woefully approximate in intonation. The Donna Elvira, Amanda Opuszynski, initially avoided the latter problem with some sweetly turned lines, but her “Mi tradì” near the end emerged as little more than a caricature of that gorgeous aria. So it was left to David Krohn, in the title role, to provide the only consistently enjoyable and accurate singing of the evening.

Altogether, then, this was a soufflé that failed to rise.

Bernard Jacobson

A shorter version of this review appeared in the Seattle Times.