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Stunning Seattle Opera Giovanni reflects the classic’s staying power

McCaw Hall
01/13/2007 -  January 14, 17, 20, 21, 24, 26, 27 2007
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni, K. 527

Mariusz Kwiecien*/Morgan Smith (Don Giovanni), Pamela Armstrong*/Franzita Whelan (Donna Anna), Marie Plette*/Dana Beth Miller (Donna Elvira), Richard Croft*/Patrick Miller (Don Ottavio), Eduardo Chama*/Brian Kontes (Leporello), Heather Parker/Ailish Tynan* (Zerlina), Kevin Burdette (Masetto), Vladimir Ognovenko (Commendatore)
Andreas Mitisek (Conductor)
Chris Alexander (Stage Director), Robert A. Dahlstrom (Set Designer), Marie-Therese Cramer (Costume Designer), Robert Wierzel (Lighting Designer)

The Seattle Opera’s all-new Don Giovanni makes us adore the warhorse all over again – and so much more deeply than the Don loved any woman.

This eight-performance January production, sold out most nights and matinees, proved so fresh and radiant that a mediocre cast would have pulled it off. Fortunately, the cast was anything but. Led by charismatic and buff Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as the Don, one of his signature roles, Mozart’s 1787 opera left all but the hopelessly jaded thoroughly engaged for three hours and two acts at the 3-year-old acoustically exquisite McCaw Hall. The opera hired two casts for the main roles – Morgan Smith sings the Don on alternate performances. But if you can, choose a Kwiecien night. He is an onstage treat of energy, seduction and lively singing as he hops on his Harley to rev up for his next sexual conquest.

Speaking of that on-stage motorcycle, Chris Alexander’s stunning production is hard to pin down in time. There’s the first-scene’s thoroughly modern Harley, then later, the Don turns up in a white shirt suited to a romantic 19th-century Byronic hero. And what about the sex king’s foppish pink gloves matched with an 18th-century top coat in another moment of seduction? Zerlina and Masetto could be from mid-century West Side Story America. And Donna Anna wears a vintage suit designed for a stylish 21st-century fashionista as she vengefully tracks down the slippery Don, her sweet yet weak Don Ottavio at her side. (By the way Richard Croft sings this tenor role in his Seattle Opera debut with pure loveliness.)

Whichever its era, the production creates a world of its own. This Don Giovanni defies fixing it in time, giving it another reason to endure. Designer Robert A. Dahlstrom (with whom Alexander worked on Seattle Opera’s 2005 Contes d’Hoffmann) creates a wall of intricately connected doors that operate as elevators, balconies, bedrooms and ballrooms. The interplay of the modernistic doors with the gorgeous, era-defying costumes by Marie-Therese Cramer (also a Contes d’Hoffmann collaborator), in concert with dramatic lighting (wait till you see the Don’s descent into a fiery hell), puts this Giovanni in league with the most visually arresting operas.

Mozart’s late 1780s Italian-opera triad (Le Nozze di Figaro and Cosi fan Tutte are the other two) revolutionizes opera as much as Alexander does the production. Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte combined tragedy and comedy in a genre that Mozart called “dramma giocoso,” or “joking drama.” High and low art are at regular play. The subtitle of Don Giovanni is Il dissoluto punito (The Dissolute Man Punished), and surely the Don pays for his shallow pranks and sexual parading by being dragged into hell. He lives a life of fantasy and nightmare, of cruelty and thrill. The opera, like the Don, thrives on opposites. Like Shakespeare’s plays, Mozart’s masterpiece is part comedy, part tragedy, and in balancing both with its soaring music, it speaks to us.

Many roles in Don Giovanni require as much singing as the Don’s. Pamela Armstrong’s Donna Anna, Marie Plette’s Donna Elvira, and Ailish Tynan’s Zerlina keep their arias on high notes. Kevin Burdette carves out a strong role for Masetto, often a lost character in this drama. Eduardo Chama, who won the New York City Opera’s Richard F. Gold Debut Artist for his Leporello in the 1996/97 season, won over the audience for his deft portrayal of the Don’s beleaguered, street-smart servant who reflects the beginnings of an Enlightened, egalitarian society.

As daring as the production and as daunting as the opera’s quick changes from the grotesque to the sublime, this Don Giovanni should prove a stylish keeper.

Seattle Opera's website

Angela Allen



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