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Don Giovanni (6/29/12), Eugene Onegin (6/30/12), La Rondine (7/1/12)
Des Moines Metro Opera
Cornelius and Moore, Tatiana and Onegin in Des Moines
© Duane Tinkey 2012
Alpha male: Mayes as DMMO’s Don Giovanni
© Duane Tinkey 2012
Great success: El-Khoury as Puccini’s Magda
© Duane Tinkey 2012
Des Moines Metro Opera celebrated its ruby anniversary with a three-opera season that gathered a beloved Mozart dramma giocoso, the company’s intitial foray into Russian repertoire and an achingly romantic confection by Puccini.
DMMO’s first-rate Don Giovanni (seen June 29) was graced by a powerful performance of the leading role, a strong trio of inamoratas and an insightful staging by Tim Ocel that registered with the theatrical truth of a legit drama. Michael Mayes traded in his habitually genial persona for a skillful portrait of the enigmatic Don; this guy was one sadistic, irresistibly attractive, alpha-male jerk. Better yet, he sang beautifully. Lobby buzz made much of his shirtless scene (yes, he looked great), but that was a mere plus in his intelligently conceived performance. Marjorie Owens delivered a marvelous Donna Anna, with all the power for “Or sai chi l’onore” and coloratura finesse for “Non mi dir.” Brenda Harris contributed a darkly amusing Elvira, keenly responsive to text, and Zulimar López-Hernández, the Zerlina, emerged as a real person, not a cardboard coquette. Rod Nelman’s sardonic Leporello was spot-on. Matthew Plenk’s sweet tenor displayed some particularly lovely shading in Ottavio’s “Dalla sua pace.” The Commendatore was Stefan Szkafarowsky, Edward Hanlon the manly Masetto. Conductor David Neely led a thrilling account of the score. This was possibly the most satisfying Giovanni I have encountered on the regional opera scene in the U.S.
The company premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (seen June 30) offered another example of a favorite DMMO baritone suppressing his characteristically sunny stage presence for a not-so-sunny title character. John Moore might ideally have tossed a bit more ice into the blender interpretively, but Onegin’s anguish in his ultimate desolation was palpable. Moore’s lovely baritone resonated with great lyrical beauty in the role, with formidable reserves of power in Act III. The Italianate vibrancy of Jan Cornelius’s soprano initially sounded a trifle out of its element, but once settled in, Cornelius delivered an excellent letter scene — and a hair-raising top B in Tatiana’s final denunciation. Cody Austin brought strikingly handsome timbre to his Lenski. Elise Quagliata fielded an adorable Olga who moved with a dancer’s grace and deftly essayed the requisite low notes. Szkafarowsky’s Gremin and Christine Seitz’s warm Larina offered solid support, as did the Filippyevna of veteran Jane Shaulis in a welcome DMMO debut. Trey Costerisan was an amusingly foppish Triquet. The members of the chorus outdid themselves with a stunning reading of Act I’s peasant interlude. Director Kristine McIntyre ably explored the psyches of her Pushkin-inspired characters. Neely was again the sensitive conductor.
The weekend concluded with an enchanting La Rondine, the piece with which DMMO began life in 1973. Puccini’s bittersweet creation, with its nods toward Traviata (and even Fledermaus) may be “a little short on plot,” as one patron was heard to remark, but it’s long on charm — and Rondine can tear your heart out. (I can testify that at least one person in the audience on July 1 cried like a baby.) Joyce El-Khoury enjoyed a great success as Magda, offering exquisite pianissimos in Act I’s hit tune and an ethereally floated A-flat at the opera’s conclusion. Tenor Harold Meers found a congenial assignment in Ruggero. John Viscardi made an appealing company debut as Prunier, while Sarah Jane McMahon reveled in Lisette’s high-soprano sunshine. There was excellent work from Tony Dillon as Rambaldo, and Dana Pundt, Jessie Lyons and Kristen DiNinno formed a pert cadre of socialites. The direction by Dugg McDonough was amusing, and conductor Michael Borowitz traversed the score with great affection.
With a design of elegant grey stonework for the Mozart, Andrew Boyce made the interesting choice to cover over DMMO’s emblematic playing circle, creating an enhanced sense of space in one of the most impressive physical productions seen at the house in recent memory. The Onegin environment by R. Keith Brumley was creatively augmented by Barry Steele’s projections, through which a cloudy night sky began to display the actual text of Tatiana’s letter as she feverishly composed it. Brumley’s naturalistic Rondine designs were bursting with romantically rosy hues, and a lovely wall of Tiffany glass irises enveloped the central couple’s too-briefly-relished love nest. Costume supervision, including glamorous Belle Époque couture created from scratch for the Puccini, was by Robin McGee.
The enviable success of the season — entirely planned by artistic director Michael Egel, who succeeded company founder Robert Larsen in 2011 — and the happy news of David Neely’s appointment as DMMO’s first-ever music director, as of September 2012, portend some exciting operatic growth at Des Moines in years to come.
MARK THOMAS KETTERSON
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