OPERA NEWS - Don Giovanni
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In Review > North America

Don Giovanni

Venture Opera

In Review Venture Opera DOn Giovanni hdl 1215
Shoremount-Obra, Kim and Raley in Venture Opera's Don Giovanni.
© Ken Howard
In REview Venture Opera Don Giovanni 2 sm 1215
Kim, Cutlip, Raley and Shoremount-Obra.
© Ken Howard
In Review Venture Don Giovanni 3 1215
Downs (foreground) with Shoremount-Obra, Cutlip and Ganz at Venture Opera.
© Ken Howard

A new company, Venture Opera, succeeded in entertaining a crowd rich in young people (if peppered with industry veterans) at its Don Giovanni on November 8 at the Lower East Side’s Angel Orensanz Center, a splendidly colorful Gothic Revival synagogue.

Edwin Cahill isn’t the first director to make Giovanni a high-ranking Catholic priest, but his intent was less to shock than to contextualize both the underlying Tirso play and da Ponte’s libretto in the contrasting worlds of the Counter-Reformation and the Enlightenment. We first encountered the characters as ghosts, before the music began; their movements engendered a sense of ritual re-enactment. The key design element—Orensanz itself apart—was Bradon McDonald’s marvelous costuming, dealing in black, white and (the Don’s color) red. Significantly, during the final sextet everyone discarded their red accoutrements into a collection box, although Anna, who began the evening in eager confession-box sex with Giovanni, retained a red leather dress panel over her crotch, and Leporello three red buttons across his heart.  The pair of mimes Cahill deployed in multiple symbolic poses and actions (Laura Carless and Joel Reuben Ganz) also served many practical purposes.

Ryan McAdams cogently led a thirty-two-piece chamber band in an aisle downstage right of the playing space. Cadenzas, appoggiaturas and other decorations were sparing but telling, almost all in the same style. Cuts lost us “Dalla sua pace”—which has some historical justification—plus “Metà di voi” (to streamline action?) and (rather dumbfoundingly) “Ah, pietà, signori miei!” and the vital recitative conversation preceding it. Fortepianist Zalman Kelber handled the continuo deftly, with Pauline Kim Harris a graceful onstage mandolinist.

The energetic cast was quite accomplished—the kind of performers one might have encountered at the late lamented New York City Opera.  Philip Cutlip, Venture’s Giovanni, in fact sang Guglielmo at NYCO in 2012. An elegant, legato-based singer with clear, meaningful textual projection and a true actor’s palate of facial expression, Cutlip tirelessly enacted a power-obsessed man at midpoint between sexy bad boy and aging roué. Eric Downs also proved tireless dramatically, though his stylish singing might almost be called too elegant for Leporello. 

Amy Shoremount–Obra sang a really outstanding Anna, accurate and with exciting thrust, including the best vengeance aria I’ve heard since Carol Vaness’s heyday. The impassioned Elvira, mezzo Marquita Raley, showed a big, pulsating instrument of promise but needs greater control: she tended to overfreight the recits in particular. Another mezzo, Cecelia Hall, already commands fine Mozartean style; her Zerlina was appealing but never cutesy. Yujoong Kim, the Don Ottavio, dispensed a somewhat tight tenor but did very well by the rigors of “Il mio tesoro.” (He needs to learn to appear to listen onstage, though.) Matthew Patrick Morris let us feel Masetto’s pain, but shared Kim’s need to restudy Italian vowels. Christian Zaremba’s capable Commendattore looked half Giovanni’s age, not least when in semi-dishabille as the statue.

The Orensanz acoustics are challenging; it was thrilling in the front rows to hear some of these fine voices a few feet away, but everyone except Downs oversang in places. In Yael Lubetzky‘s variable, often striking lighting, the titles screen often grew indistinct, a hardship for opera newbies. That said, this was by far the most enjoyable and thought-provoking Don Giovanni New York has heard in many a year: Cahill’s concept proved multi-layered and insightful, and McAdams’ work with the orchestra was seamless and disciplined. It augured well for Venture Opera’s further endeavors, which this season will extend to Carmen and Pagliacci.  —David Shengold 

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