United States Mozart, Don Giovanni: Soloists, Roberto Minczuk (conductor), Tomer Zvulun (stage director), Cincinnati Music Hall. Cincinnati, Ohio. 13.6.13 (RDA)
Don Giovanni – Lucas Meachem
Donna Anna – Angela Meade
Donna Elvira – Nicole Cabell
Don Ottavio – Aaron Blake
Leporello – Burak Bilgili
Zerlina – Alexandra Schoeny
Masetto – Ryan Kuster
Commendatore – Nathan Stark
Photograph by Philip Groshong
Tirso de Molina was the first poet to give form to the mythical story about El Burlador de Sevilla—the man who mocked Seville. His was at its core a Spanish Don, all romantic bravado and Iberian pride. Pushkin’s Don in The Stone Guest is utterly Slavic—a subtle, melancholy malcontent from the steppes. Moliere’s Don Juan is a comedy of not-very-good manners about a French existentialist philosopher three centuries ahead of his time. Shaw’s disillusioned Don Juan in Man and Superman eventually becomes swamped by his own Irish loquaciousness. So leave it to Lorenzo da Ponte, an Italian, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, an Austrian, to flesh out in words and music what many of us think of as the quintessential Don: a complex egoist in love with love, life, lust and the pleasures of the chase.
Don Giovanni is a perfect opener for Cincinnati Opera’s 97th season—a popular Mozart songfest that ranks high among the most beloved operas in the canon, its familiar plot revolving around the misadventures the iconic Don Juan undergoes one day in Seville, as everything that can possibly go wrong does go wrong, leading to his being dragged down to hell for all eternity as punishment for his misdoings.
The opera is long, even for Mozart, clocking in at three hours, and only the perfect match of a strong conductor and an astute stage director can bring this masterpiece to glorious life. In Thursday night’s performance there was more than one moment in which an evident lack of coordination between stage and pit threatened to bring the proceedings to grief, notably in the complex finale of Act I. Mozart’s dramma giocoso should be as much drama as “giocoso”, but stage director Tomer Zvulun emphasized the work’s humor often at the expense of the gravitas the story deserves and needs. The set by Nicholas Muni provided gleaming, reflective surfaces that at times shone like polished marble while at other times hinted at shadowy corners in which the quick and the dead hide to do and later punish evil.
Don Giovanni calls for four low-voiced male singers, three top-notch sopranos and one fine lyric tenor. All members of the cast must be good actors and Mozart stylists. Lucas Meachem, the Don was both light on his feet and vocally impressive, freely adding imaginative vocal embellishments at various times and delivering a meltingly sung serenade in Act II. Burak Birgili, a very good basso cantante with buffo instincts was the Leporello, effective in the famous “catalogue” aria and infusing his whole performance with bawdy humor and terrific vocalism. Aaron Blake was a lyrical Don Ottavio whose “Dalla sua pace” was cut, but whose “Il mio Tesoro” was impressively sung with seemingly inexhaustible breath control. Ryan Kuster was dramatically convincing and vocally apposite as Masetto. Nathan Stark was nothing but excellent as a dignified Grandee of Spain who later returns as a very human Stone Guest.
Angela Meade debuts with the company as Donna Anna, her glorious, larger-than-life sound lashing out at Don Ottavio in “Or sai chi l’onore” and later meltingly lovely in “Non mi dir.” Nicole Cabell’s Donna Elvira is simply wonderful. Her essentially lyric soprano continues to blossom and grow in size and hue ever closer to a true spinto sound, never better than in her gorgeously sung “Mi tradi.” She looks great and acts with keen intelligence—she would just as soon pluck out the Don’s eyes as bed him—and straddling pathos and high comedy with aplomb. Alexandra Schoeny is perfectly delicious as a feminine but steel-spined Zerlina, and sang a lovely “Batti, batti” and an even lovelier “Vedrai carino.” She returns later this season in Galileo Galilei.
Cincinnati Opera is the second oldest opera company in the United States, and it has grown by leaps and bounds in artistic quality and ambition every year since Evans Mirageas first took it over in 1996. This season promises to be a banner one, judging by the quality of the casts ahead. Don Giovanni whets the appetite for the rest of a four-course musical banquet: DerRosenkavalier, Aida and Galileo Galilei.
Rafael de Acha