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Performances

Amanda Majeski (Donna Elvira) and Lucas Meachem (Don Giovanni) [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
05 Jan 2020

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Amanda Majeski (Donna Elvira) and Lucas Meachem (Don Giovanni) [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]

 

Don Giovanni and Leporello were performed by Lucas Meachem and Matthew Rose. Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Don Ottavio were sung by Rachel Willis-Sorensen, Amanda Majeski, and Ben Bliss. Zerlina and Masetto were Ying Fang and Brandon Cedel. The Commendatore was Mika Kares. The Lyric Opera Orchestra was conducted by James Gaffigan, and the Lyric Opera Chorus prepared by its Chirus Master Michael Black. Sets and costumes for this production are by Walt Spangler and Ana Kuzmanic respectively. The lighting designer is Duane Schuler, wigs and makeup are by Sarah Hatten. Making debuts at Lyric Opera in this production were Mmes. Willis-Sorensen and Fang along with Messrs. Bliss, Cedel, and Kares.

From the opening chords of the overture Mr. Gaffigan kept a firm, shaping hand over the orchestral colors while affording due support to the soloists on stage. Leporello’s opening lines are delivered by Mr. Rose with a characteristic mix of declamation and melodic fervor, to which the bass-baritone returns at key moments in both solo and ensemble passages. His complaints about the master Don Giovanni lead abruptly into the scene between Donna Anna and Don Giovanni as they are confronted by Anna’s father, the Commendatore. As Donna Anna, Ms. Willis-Sorensen creates a believable character given to flights of emotion expressed in vocal embellishments. Once Don Giovanni kills the Commendatore Mr. Meachem’s interaction with his servant exemplifies the tension in recitative and dialogue that keeps this pair united. The contrast of Meachem’s baritone with the lower vocal type of Rose’s Leporello creates interest in the passages of mutual comment and strategy. Since these exchanges essentially advance the action of the opera, their significance here takes on added importance. Upon the return of Donna Anna with her suitor Don Ottavio the horror of Giovanni’s actions and the need for retribution fills the young pair’s duet. Both Willis-Sorensen and Bliss show an ardent commitment in their conjoined singing, while each retains the personality of individual character in vocal identity. Donna Anna’s bursts of impassioned grief are tempered by Bliss’s steadying projection of Don Ottavio’s attempts to comfort and to encourage his beloved in her loss. With a nod to the future, they exit and allow Don Giovanni to ponder further conquests. His unexpected encounter with Donna Elvira provides Ms. Majeski the space to delineate her character with spirit and exquisite lyrical projection. In her aria, “Ah chi mi dice mai” [“Ah, who is there who will tell me…”], Majeski sings with tasteful Classical line indicative of Elvira’s noble demeanor, yet incorporating a side that has also experienced emotional betrayal. The admirable range of Majeski’s voice is here fraught with angry resentment but also bound by the discipline of melodic structure. From polished top notes expressing her love on “l’amai” descending to the deeply intoned chest tones of ’l’empio” [“the villain”], Majeski communicates the competing emotions that define Elvira’s complex personality now and later in the opera. This musically expressed ambivalence is nurtured by Rose’s frank ad amusingly punctuated performance of Leporello’s “Catalogue” aria detailing his master’s multiple seductions.

The neatly pastoral setting of a villagers’ gathering in this production highlights both an intrusion and subsequent restoration of simplicity. Ying Fang and Cedel depict an ideal rustic couple, their voices melding into the greenery of their outdoor celebration. Tempos suggest a tense encounter at the entrance of the Don and servant, but they relax appropriately at the start of Giovanni’s attempt to win over Zerlina. The duet “Là ci darem la mano” [“There you will give me your hand”] is sung with care and poignancy, indeed allowing Ying Fang’s floating tones to suggest a momentary, emotional attraction to the Don. Donna Elvira’s abrupt intrusion has here the twofold purpose of saving Zerlina and also preparing for her accusations in the following ensenble with Donna Anna and Don Ottavio. Majeski makes the most of this pivotal scene by injecting rising melismas into her aria supporting the maiden and denouncing with declarative force “il traditor!” [“the betrayer!”]. Such persistence continued in the ensemble helps to awaken in Donna Anna the realization of her father’s killer and her seducer. Willis-Sorensen’s address to Don Ottavio in the aria “Or sai, chi l’onore rapire a me volse” [“Now you know who tried to steal my honor from me”] is replete with urgent intonation, seamless breath control, and an unexpected yet effective decorative flourish at the close. In response to Anna’s appeals for vengeance Bliss’s Don Ottavio sings a meltingly lyrical performance of “Dalla sua pace la mia dipende” [“Upon her peace of mind mine also rests”]. In his transitions between phrases Bliss achieves an unbroken spirit of emotional commitment to his beloved, perhaps most achingly communicated with rising pitches sung on “morte mi da” [“(her trouble) is equal to my death”]. Despite this unity of noble determination, conjoined with Donna Elvira’s resentment, the threesome is nevertheless here amusingly outwitted so that Don Giovanni’s escapades may continue in the following act.

The convivial banter between master and servant proceeds in the next act with clever motion and idiomatic sensitivity by Meachem and Rose. The serenade performed beneath Donna Elvira’s window captures Meachem’s portrayal of Don Giovanni in an ardent, softly touching performance suggesting at least the mask of vulnerability in this inveterate rake. In the trio of set pieces that follow as highlights in this act the characters’ personalities are intensified here through vocal expressiveness. When Bliss sings “Il mio tresoro” [“My beloved treasure”] his command of legato and ease of phrasing incorporating appoggiatura render his message that he will summon the authorities believably urgent. In much the same way, Majeski’s performance of “Mi tradi” [“He betrayed me”] reiterates Donna Elvira’s initial attraction while the beauty of lyrical phrase and ascent to top notes emphasizes her subsequent resolve. Don Giovanni’s final descent from an inverted banquet-table into the brimstone of hell is motivated as much by the dramatic as by the vocal strengths of this performance.

Salvatore Calomino

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