SPOLETO 2006 » Opera & Theatre

REVIEW ‌ Don Giovanni

Tighter direction, different lighting, and heightened drama improve Don Giovanni

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This year’s rerun production of Don Giovanni remains basically intact, but with quite a few minor adjustments. It’s the same utterly unconventional and highly entertaining affair it was last year — treating Mozart’s traditionally morose drama more like a fantasy-ridden comedy. But artists can’t help but tinker a bit, even with their successes — and most of the tinkering here helped make a better show of it.

Props and costumes are virtually identical, and the huge, building-length “stage” is just as it was. But one of the first things I noticed is that the lighting effects have been tweaked. Certain scenes look radically different, while others are much the same. The previous version took considerable liberties with the original score, shuffling various scenes and musical tidbits. That’s carried a couple of steps further this year — the main change is switching an important sextet from the second act to the tail end of the first.

The lead singers, like last time, perform from every nook and cranny of the huge set. Last year, such scattering of the singers degraded their vocal precision and ability to keep up with the orchestra, especially in the ensemble passages. It’s kind of hard to even sing a decent duet when your partner’s at the other end of the building. This year, they get reined in a bit, and placed closer together for some of the key group numbers — and the result is more coherent ensemble singing.

The characters often interact differently this time. The opening murder scene is a bit more demonic (also shorter musically), and quite a few other onstage encounters get touched up or altered. The chorus (who still run around wet more than they sing) get some fresh choreography — and one troublesome scene that had them in modern streetwear is left out here.

Remember, Mozart was quite the crude potty-mouth, and fond of salacious humor. He’d no doubt approve of the many mild, yet blatant semi-obscenities to be snickered at here. Yes, our speedo-clad Don gets peed on again. And the erotic stakes get raised a notch or two — like when our three aggrieved damsels fashion an anatomically accurate stick-figure caricature of the Don — and then proceed to stomp him savagely … right there. Ouch.

The cast remains the same, with one exception. Andrey Telegin is now the Commendatore, and he improves upon his predecessor. Baritone Nmon Ford remains the vocally (and physically) spectacular Don. The three fine soprano leads — Joana Gedmintaite, Ellie Dehn, and Monica Yunus — meet or exceed the standards they set last year, as does baritone Keith Phares. Baritone Brian Banion (Leporello) sounded a bit froggy-throated at the start, but his voice cleared up nicely as he went on. Tenor Mark Thomsen did very well, but sounded a bit off compared to last time.

All remains well otherwise. Maestro Villaume, his orchestra and the Westminster chorus are in fine form. Bravo to the entire cast and production team for making this revolutionary fairy-tale production even more fun to watch.

To read Lindsay Koob’s complete review of last year’s Don Giovanni, visit the Post and Courier’s spoletoblog.typepad.com/spoletoblog/2005/06/don_giovani_the.html, or Google “Linsday Koob”+”extended review” and it will pop right up.

DON GIOVANNI • Spoleto Festival USA • May 29, 31, June 2, 4 and 6 at 8 p.m. • $15 (limited view) to $140 • 3 hours • Memminger Auditorium, 20 Beaufain St. • 579-3100

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