United States Mozart, Don Giovanni: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Lyric Opera of Chicago / James Gaffigan (conductor). Civic Opera House, Chicago. 23.11.2019. (JLZ)
Director – Robert Falls
Set designer – Walt Spangler
Costume designer – Ana Kuzmanic
Lighting designer – Duane Schuler
Chorus master – Michael Black
Don Giovanni – Lucas Meachem
Leporello – Matthew Rose
Donna Anna – Rachel Willis-Sørensen
Donna Elvira – Amanda Majeski
Zerlina – Ying Fang
Don Ottavio – Ben Bliss
Commendatore – Mika Kares
Masetto – Brandon Cedel
While Martha Nussbaum’s program notes for Mozart’s Don Giovanni suggest an incomplete conception of the drama in Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto, in Lyric Opera’s latest outing the score emerged as a supreme drama giocoso. The tragic narrative fleshes out to be more than a morality play when the director and cast emphasize the comic elements, and Lyric Opera’s production does this well.
Eminent Mozartian Amanda Majeski is a compelling Donna Elvira, with consummate style in capturing nuances and the dramatic acumen to deliver it all. Majeski’s rich, textured voice, even range, and spectrum of dynamic levels kept the audience rapt, offering subtleties that few singers do. Majeski was firmly in command, from her entrance aria (‘Ah, chi mi dice mai’) through the finale ensemble. Her resolve, advising Zerlina to avoid Don Giovanni (‘Ah, fuggi il traditor’), showed her concern for his other victims, but her compassion for him emerged in a powerful ‘Mi tradì quell’alma ingrate’.
Ben Bliss offered a similarly exemplary portrayal of Don Ottavio, with his lustrous tenor sounding as if the role were created for him. His expertise was evident in the first-act duet ‘Ah, vendicar’, showing his devotion to Donna Anna. Yet his challenging aria ‘Dalla sua pace’, also had the audience spellbound. He made ‘Il mio tesoro’ equally memorable, with thoughtful ornamentation in the repeat, and showing both the facility and ease of the finest Mozart tenors.
In her Lyric debut, Rachel Willis-Sørensen was exciting as Donna Anna, with a vibrant, full soprano, especially in ‘Non mi dir’, which showed her full expressivity. And the object of her rancor is the title character, whom Lucas Meachem portrayed admirably, with requisite swagger. Meachem gave a lustrous reading of the famous champagne aria ‘Fin ch’han dal vino’, adding momentum to the Act I finale, and at the end of the opera, his late remorse had passionate intensity.
The rest of the cast was equally effective, including Brandon Cedel’s earnest Massetto, who offered many details and handsome voice. Matthew Rose was a devoted Leporello, who brought genuine freshness to the iconic ‘Catalogue’ aria. Ying Fang was engaging as Zerlina, and Mika Kares was impressive as the Commendatore.
All of these benefited from the stylish conducting of James Gaffigan, who gave each act good pacing. His attention to details emerged in the various sonorities he brought out throughout, especially the nicely balanced winds. His occasionally Romantic timbres meshed nicely with Robert Falls’s 1920-based staging, first presented by Lyric Opera in the 2014–2015 season. The revival benefited from Falls’s well-considered direction, sensitive lighting from Duane Schuler, and sets by Walt Spangler. Considering these elements and an enviable cast, it is a Don Giovanni worth seeing again.
James L. Zychwicz