Chicago Opera Review: DON GIOVANNI (Lyric Opera)

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by Barnaby Hughes on September 28, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

THE MANY LOVE(S OF) DON GIOVANNI

Why does Chicago love Mozart’s Don Giovanni so much? Well-received as Lyric Opera’s first production back in 1954, and revived many times over the ensuing decades, including the company’s fiftieth anniversary in 2004, Don Giovanni just won’t go away, despite the titular character’s climactic comeuppance and ignominious death. The answer must lie in Mozart’s delightful and accessible score, deftly conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, and the balance provided by Lorenzo da Ponte’s poetic libretto, a true dramma giocoso.

Andrea Silvestrelli, Mariusz Kwiecień, and Kyle Ketelsen in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Kyle Ketelsen and Mariusz Kwiecień in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

There’s little to like in any of the opera’s characters. Don Giovanni, of course, is a notorious rake and an indiscriminating seducer. As his servant Leporello sings, “Non si picca – se sia ricca / Se sia brutta, se sia bella / Purché porti la gonnella / Voi sapete quel che fa (It doesn’t matter if she’s rich / Ugly or beautiful / If she wears a skirt / You know what he does).”

Ana Maria Martinez, Antonio Poli, and Marina Rebekain in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Why does Leporello put up with his master’s escapades? For the love of money. It might be possible to sympathize with Don Giovanni’s victims, but they too have their faults. Donna Elvira is a fickle woman who loves the scoundrel one minute and wants to rip his heart out the next. Donna Anna wallows in the misery of bereavement as an excuse for postponing her nuptials to Don Ottavio. And Zerlina is an impressionable young girl easily seduced by the count’s nobility and wealth.

Marina Rebeka in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Is it possible to root for such unsympathetic characters as these? Perhaps the answer lies in the Commendatore, the brave Donna Anna’s father who dies defending her honor and wreaks divine vengeance on Don Giovanni from beyond the grave. Played by the massive and imposing bass Andrea Silvestrelli, the Commendatore’s stage presence is brief, but necessarily memorable. Both in physical size and depth of range, Silvestrelli contrasts strikingly with Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień’s diminutive Don Giovanni. Although Kwiecień’s elegantly lyrical singing can be heard in nearly every scene, it surprisingly seems overshadowed by each of the other artists in this tremendously talented cast.

Mariusz Kwiecień and Andrea Silvestrelli in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Puerto-Rican soprano Ana María Martínez as Donna Elivra constantly steals the scene from Kwiecień, especially with her dramatic entrance in Act 1, Scene 2, singing “Ah! chi mi dice mai.” (Colin Ure’s English supertitles deserve mention here for their contemporary and colloquial flavor, which doesn’t euphemize the occasionally racy lyrics of the original.) Martínez’s hip-shaking swagger, mannish costuming, piercing vibrato, and dexterous coloratura make hers an unforgettable, standout performance. Together with Kyle Ketelsen’s mischievous Leporello, she provides most of the production’s laughs.

Andriana Chuchman and Mariusz Kwiecień in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Even more show-stealing than these are the moving arias sung by Antonio Poli as Don Ottavio, Andriana Chuchman as Zerlina, and Marina Rebeka as Donna Anna. Poli’s “Il mio tesoro” leaves the audience craving more of his unctuous tenor and perfect diction. It provides a welcome and sorely needed tonal balance to the cast’s three sopranos and three basses. In response to Poli, Rebeka’s defensive and convincing “Non mi dir” is resplendent with warmth and texture, even a touch of coloratura. Buttressing Chuchman’s excellent acting skills is her silky and melodious tone, used to maximum effect in the endearing “Vedrai, carino.”

Michael Sumuel and Andriana Chuchman in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Director Robert Falls’ transposition of Don Giovanni’s early modern setting into the 1920s adds little to the present production, except perhaps by way of distinguishing it from previous productions and freshening it up for season(ed) subscribers. The overall look remains quite traditional, however, despite Donna Elvira’s motorcycle and the neon bar sign. Walt Spangler’s sets are beautiful and effective, especially the setting of Act 2, Scene 2 in a church with a statuesque Virgin Mary, which provides an interesting comment and contrast to the impure acts being discussed and debated under her pitiful gaze. Although not as ugly as some of the past garments on display in the exhibition downstairs at the Civic Opera House, Ana Kuzmanic’s costumes are nevertheless unsightly. Particularly egregious examples are the color-clashing outfits worn by Martínez and the shapeless frocks that obscure Rebeka’s beauty.

Ana Maria Martinez in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Notwithstanding these minor criticisms, Lyric Opera’s Don Giovanni proves why the company remains viable and successful when so many others are folding or winding down. Mounting such grand productions as these requires outstanding artistic vision, the finest musical talent, and the generous loyalty of happy audiences. No wonder Chicago simply can’t get enough of Don Giovanni.

Michael Sumuel, Andriana Chuchman, Kyle Ketelsen, and Antonio Poli in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Ana Maria Martinez, Mariusz Kwiecień, Kyle and Ketelsenin in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.Antonio Poli and Marina Rebeka in DON GIOVANNI, directed by Robert Falls for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.photos by Todd Rosenberg
poster photo by Rozarii Lynch/Seattle Opera

Don Giovanni
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on October 29, 2014
for tickets, call 312.827.5600 or visit Lyric Opera

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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