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A gripping Don Giovanni

Koerner Hall
03/20/2013 -  & March 22*, 2013
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni, K. 527
Diego Catala (Don Giovanni), Jonathan Kirby (Leporello), Alexandra Leblanc (Donna Anna), Heather Kozak (Donna Elvira), Beste Kalender (Zerlina), Tristan Jones (Masetto), Raymons Acolas (Il Commendatore)
Royal Conservatory Orchestra and Chorus, Uri Mayer (Conductor)
Ashlie Corcoran (Director), Camellia Koo (Set and Costume Designer), Kimberly Purtell (Lighting Designer)

B. Kalender & D. Catala (© Nicola Betts)

Although Koerner Hall is essentially a concert hall and not a multipurpose venue, is has proven itself a welcoming space for staged opera performed by the students of the Glenn Gould School, the professional division of the Royal Conservatory of Music. The removal of two rows of seats opens up a commodious pit that also extends beneath the stage, giving plenty of space for the 47-member orchestra. An exception was harpsichordist Brahm Goldhamer (also head répétiteur) occupying a spot at stage level.

Uri Mayer guided a punchy, dramatic reading of the score. Orchestra and voices resounded terrifically in the hall, the acoustic benefits of which deserve continued praise.

The absence of a proscenium brings the action closer to the audience - but the stage platform rules out the use of sets; the ingenious use of furnishing and props is what’s required. The stated aim of this production was to stage the work in the era and style of the TV series Mad Men (thus the corporate world of the 1960s), with Don Giovanni as the ruling alpha male. The sleek wood of the stage provided a suitable backdrop to the array of sofas and other furniture, all of which made the space look like an upscale hotel lobby. Understandably this worked better in some scenes than others. The one notable built object was a commanding red staircase leading from the stage up to what is normally a choir or audience seating area - and some key dramatic action occurred up there. The extra dynamism resulting from the use of the stairway more than made up for the constrictions of the unit set.

Camellia Koo’s retro fashions achieved just the right look. Kimberly Purtell’s dynamic lighting contributed notably to the drama.

Updating the work is no longer all that innovative (this is not a negative criticism). Among modernisms in this production was the frequent lighting of cigarettes (Leporello always at the ready with the lighter and, in the catalogue aria, Donna Elvira is shown a number of photo albums filled with Polaroid photos. (Meanwhile Giovanni is upstairs consummating another conquest - and he flips the new photo down to Leporello.) In Act II, when Leporello is normally shown to be helping himself to his master’s food, here he indulges in cocaine.

The party scene gave us revelers in various states of out and out lechery, including two men snogging in the shadows beneath the stairway. The alarm and confusion caused by Zerlina’s offstage screams gave rise to one of the best stagings of that scene I have ever seen.

The Commendatore was not killed with a sword - Don Giovanni hit him with a bronze figurine of a horse and rider (a knight - get it?). This figurine was used prominently as a prop, as was Don Giovanni’s fedora - which is all that remains of him after being carried off to hell - and Leporello decides to doff his soft cap and wear it instead.

It’s difficult to size up student singers (and no doubt premature) - but overall the cast were well chosen for their roles. As usual, the woman displayed a greater level of vocal maturity than the men. It comes as no surprise that Beste Kalender, the fully-realized Zerlina, already has performing experience in Canada and her home country, Turkey. Alexandra Leblanc created all-out excitement as Donna Anna, as did Heather Kozak as the relentless Donna Elvira. At times there was a degree of vocal unruliness, but better that than vocal blandness.

Justin Stolz as Don Ottavio has a notably promising sound. His Act I aria, "Dalla sua pace", was cut, but he did very nicely with the more demanding "Il mio tesoro".

Jonathan Kirby was an animated Leporello, seemingly unhampered by a leg splint. Diego Catala loomed authoritatively in the title role. Both have attractive voices but were sometimes overwhelmed. Tristan Jones simmered effectively as Masetto.

The role of the Commendatore is a tough, if not impossible, task for a student. An outside professional, Raymond Acolas, brought a welcome degree of maturity to the part. (A rather confusing bit of staging in the penultimate scene gave us two Comendatores on stage, the statue - singing - and a double dressed in the uniform of Act I.)

Overall, this was a tightly-focused performance. We look forward eagerly for more good work from this batch of student performers.

Michael Johnson



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