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Houston Grand Opera
Eröd as Houston Grand Opera's Don Giovanni
© Felix Sanchez 2013
Don Giovanni returned to Houston Grand Opera on January 25 in a production originally created for the company in 1986 by director Göran Järvefelt. The revival was an engrossing performance that emphasized the enigmatic, flawed nature of the Don and the underlying moral that is borne out by his punishment. Making his HGO debut as Don Giovanni, Adrian Eröd brought a clear, focused baritone and wiry physique to the role, which well served the image of an elegant aristocrat, albeit one with a pathology: in Eröd's depiction, each plan that goes wrong for the Don and every unfortunate turn of events inspire a giddy, almost delirious excitement that impels him toward further chaos. Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen's outstanding Donna Anna — imposing, determined, even regal in "Or sai chi l'onore" — sang with power and pathos to create the moral counterbalance to the dissolute Don Giovanni. The story, however, comes to us principally as witnessed by Don Giovanni's servant, Leporello. Kyle Ketelsen, a baritone whose voice rang powerfully and whose every syllable of buffo patter projected throughout the hall, was first-rate, whether complaining, commiserating or cowering.
Soprano Veronika Dzhioeva also sang beautifully but didn't quite capture Donna Elvira's stark contrasts of mood as a woman who is at once wise to Don Giovanni's perfidy and still under his power. Don Ottavio is little more than Donna Anna's affianced comforter, yet Mozart gives the role the serenely virtuous "Dalla sua pace," and tenor Joel Prieto sang it with splendid poise. Soprano Malin Christensson looked and acted the part of Zerlina — alternately pert and demure — but couldn't project over the orchestra or match other singers on the stage. Michael Sumuel's solid bass-baritone and stony glares captured the smoldering anger of Masetto, even if his sound overmatched Christensson's. Bass Morris Robinson, who was concurrently performing as Joe in the HGO Show Boat, was a rich-voiced and, as a statue, creepily stiff-limbed Commendatore.
With its traditional trompe l'oeil designs, the setting by designer Carl Friedrich Oberle evokes European theaters of Mozart's era, including a few authentically rumbling changes of scenery, but also with well-integrated present-day lighting effects by lighting director Duane Schuler (festively brilliant for Masetto and Zerlina's wedding celebrations; murky gray for the churchyard scene with the Commendatore's statue). Choreography and blocking were less successful. If the blocking sometimes arranged the characters for maximum clarity in the ensembles (for instance, lower-pitched, pattering musical lines made clearer by placing the singer downstage in comparison to the higher sustained lines), at other times it worked against that clarity. The dancing of the Act I finale crucially underscores the different ingredients of the accumulating action, so it was disappointing to see desultory steps in that moment of the opera. There were no onstage musicians for that finale, but for the Act II finale there was a wind band onstage, which played well and, for no apparent reason, sported diverse motley costumes. The fine playing extended to the HGO Orchestra, which, under the baton of Trevor Pinnock in his HGO debut, demonstrated cohesion, nuance and, in Don Giovanni's final moments, the terrifying sounds of infernal punishment.
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