Sunday, August 03, 2014

Merola Opera: Don Giovanni

Amanda Woodbury (Donna Anna)
Photography by Kristen Loken.
Last Thursday night I attended Merola Opera's performance of Don Giovanni. The non-traditional production is set entirely in a modern-day artist's studio. I did not always understand what was supposed to be happening, but it was consistently theatrical. During the overture we see Don Giovanni painting Donna Anna then groping her. An apron-wearing Leporello pushes chairs & tables around the studio & shows Donna Elvira newsprint sketchpads full of drawings of female nudes during the Catalog Aria. Zerlina & Masetto arrive at the studio for a wedding photo. The chorus, dressed in black, appear throughout, moving languorously & looking like judgmental zombies. In the banquet scene they slap on a table in unison when the Commendatore knocks at the door, & they collectively smother Don Giovanni at the end. The act 1 finale was oddly static & opposite to the libretto.

Soprano Amanda Woodbury, riding a wave of strength, immediately impressed the audience with her large, edgy voice & sustained focus. Even though she was completely potent, it felt like she was using only half her reserves. She received extended ovations for both of her arias. Soprano Karen Chia-Ling Ho as Donna Elvira had a muscular & assertive voice. Her character was fittingly angry without being wholly neurotic. She did a terrific un-operatic offstage scream in the finale. Soprano Yujin Kim looked & sounded plucky, pert & a bit bold as Zerlina.

Edward Nelson (Don Giovanni)
and Szymon Wach (Leporello).
Photography by Kristen Loken.
Baritone Edward Nelson was an authoritative Don Giovanni. His voice is strong & smooth & he sounded particularly alluring in the serenade "Deh, vieni alla finestra." Bass-baritone Szymon Wach sounded resonant & was a punkish Leporello who looked more like the Don's brother than his servant. Tenor Benjamin Werley did a nice job maintaining a long line in Don Ottavio's arias, & his voice had a bit of heft to it.

Bass Scott Russel was appropriately firm & stern as the Commendatore. The staging of the graveyard scene was awkward, with him standing in an auditorium doorway instead of onstage. Bass-baritone Rhys Lloyd Talbot was a good actor & sang pleasingly as Masetto. The cast sang well together, & ensemble numbers like the Commendatore's death scene & the epilogue sounded great.

Under conductor Martin Katz, the orchestra was often not together, especially the violins. There were some nice woodwind passages, & the harpsichord continuo was flamboyant. Because the orchestra is in the auditorium at the same level as the audience, it was loud & over-balanced the singers. I was in the 3rd row, close enough to notice the trumpet player was reading a book about music history. The hall was full, & my opera companion was delighted to spot composer Jake Heggie during the intermission. The cowbell used to signal the end of the intermission was obnoxious.

§ Don Giovanni
W.A. Mozart

Merola Opera Program Conductor: Martin Katz
Director: James Darrah

Don Giovanni: Edward Nelson
Leporello: Szymon Wach
Il Commendatore: Scott Russell
Donna Anna: Amanda Woodbury
Don Ottavio: Benjamin Werley
Donna Elvira: Karen Chia-Ling Ho
Masetto: Rhys Lloyd Talbot
Zerlina: Yujin Kim

Thursday, July 31, 7:30 p.m.
Everett Auditorium


Civic Center said...

Totally agree about the obnoxious cowbell.

Axel Feldheim said...

Perhaps it's what the school uses to get kids into assembly. Moooo!