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In Review > North America

Don Giovanni

Lyric Opera of Chicago

In REview Don Giovanni hdl 1214
Diamond jubilee Giovanni in Chicago: Ketelsen and Kwiecien, above, as Leporello and Giovanni
© Todd Rosenberg 2014
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Martínez, as Donna Elvira
© Todd Rosenberg 2014

Lyric Opera of Chicago came into being with two “calling card” performances of Don Giovanni in February 1954. Mozart’s dramma giocoso has remained a company favorite, offered in mountings variously designed or directed by such notables as Franco Zeffirelli, Tito Gobbi, Peter J. Hall and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. 2004 brought a fiftieth-anniversary production by Peter Stein. Continuing that tradition, Lyric initiated its 2014–15 “diamond anniversary” season in celebratory style with a fresh look at the piece (seen Sept. 30) by Tony Award-winning director Robert Falls, the current artistic director of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

Baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, a particularly handsome Giovanni, sang seductively. The champagne aria was dispatched with a surplus of erotically charged élan, and the second verse of “Deh vieni alla finestra” boasted some particularly attractive shading. Kyle Ketelsen’s Leporello was quite his equal in a grittier, streetwise sort of way, bringing a more potent sexuality to the role than many do. Marina Rebeka’s soprano seemed a half-size larger in the role of Donna Anna than when she was heard as Lyric’s Violetta last season; here, she fielded the requisite power for “Or sai chi l’onore” and fluid passagework for “Non mi dir.” 

Ana María Martínez may be the best Donna Elvira I have ever seen. She tore into recitatives like an avenging harpy but subsequently revealed an exquisitely floated upper register in the Act II trio and excellent coloratura in “Mi tradì.” Andriana Chuchman’s middle register has grown in lyric body, which stood her in good stead for Zerlina’s vocal writing. Antonio Poli’s Ottavio was a sensitive, noble creature; the tenor’s voice at first showed a slight tendency to spread above the staff, but he delivered a charming “Il mio tesoro.” Andrea Silvestrelli repeated his predictably well-characterized Commendatore from 2004, and Michael Sumuel made a noteworthy company debut with his resonant Masetto.

Director Falls set the opera in rural Spain in the 1920s, a clever inspiration that pulled the action into a near-contemporary frame while preserving the integrity of the original da Ponte libretto. It wasn’t seamless; the ensembles were curiously inert, and a few details, such as a shackled sex slave in Giovanni’s villa, were a bit over the top. There were some marvelous touches, though. Anna’s recognition of her attacker was kindled by a bit of business with her rosary that recalled handcuffs used in the attempted rape, and the denouement was fabulous: Giovanni’s banquet table upended and fed him into hell like the chute on a meat grinder. Walt Spangler’s evocative Iberian stucco edifices, festooned with lush greenery and gorgeous chandeliers, deftly guided us from villa to bar to den of iniquity. Ana Kuzmanic’s costumes were stunning, particularly those created for the masqueraders, whose multicolor finery tempted the drably clad peasant women to approach surreptitiously and caress the sumptuous fabric in wonder. 

Conductor Andrew Davis affirmed his status as an expert Mozartean with a splendid reading of the score from orchestra and chorus alike. Davis allowed for subtle embellishment by the principals, an opportunity nicely exploited by Leporello in “Notte e giorno faticar” and by Giovanni in a seductive bit of ornamentation on “Signora” as he wheedled Elvira in the conclusion of “Ah, chi mi dice mai.” All told, this was a terrific opener for Lyric’s sixtieth-anniversary season; one may now speculate how Giovanni will be staged in the company’s seventieth. spacer 



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