We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Mozart wrote Don Giovanni for a Prague premiere in 1787; when he brought the production to Vienna he had a new cast to consider and made some changes.  Perhaps he wanted to please these house favorites or exploit their gifts.  He added a comic scene in Act II for Zerlina and Leporello who is tied to a chair; he expanded Donna Elvira’s grand scena; he wrote “Dalla sua pace” to replace “Il Mio Tesoro”.  According to Stephen Wadsworth who directed the fine Don Giovanni just seen at Juilliard, there is even evidence that the epilogue, in which the morality of the piece is reiterated and the characters announce their future intentions, was occasionally omitted.  Truth be told, we were surprised and delighted by the addition of the Zerlina-Leporello scene (which we had never seen before), largely due to the sprightly talent of the adorable soprano Ying Fang and the comic gifts of baritone Alexander Hajek.  But we sorely missed “Il Mio Tesoro” (being greedy, we want both tenor arias) and felt that the ending, while very well-staged, seemed abrupt.  We do understand that this a a long opera and that no edition is considered set in concrete.

The cast, mostly students in the Artist Diploma in Opera Studies at Juilliard, sang and acted with great distinction, as is generally the case.  Baritone Jeongcheol Cha made a splendid Don and created an anti-hero of some complexity.  As a matter of fact, all the characters were more complex than is usually seen, which must be attributed to the fine direction.  Leporello was not just comic foil to the Don but seethed with the Rage of the Abused just under the surface.  Donna Elvira, as portrayed by the lovely soprano Devon Guthrie, was not just a whiny victim but seemed a fierce champion of her gender and even took up sword at one point!  The soprano Karen Vuong used her brilliant soprano to great advantage as Donna Anna and, as her fiancé Don Ottavio, sweet-voiced tenor Yujoong Kim managed to avoid the cliché of wimpiness.  Soprano Ying Fang created a wily yet tender Zerlina who grows in dimension as the story unfolds.  Her sposo Masetto, as performed by baritone Takaoki Onishi also avoided the clichés to which we are generally exposed and made us care about his character.

On loan from the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, bass Ryan Speedo Green impressed us mightily as The Comendatore.  He sang and acted with great authority.  In the graveyard he is seated but when he enters Don Giovanni’s dining hall he grabs Don G and pulls him off to hell.  Again, let it be noted that the cliché of falling through a trapdoor with flames emerging was wisely avoided.  Mr. Wadsworth’s direction illustrated how one can take an old war horse and make it fresh, without resorting to elaborate sets and without imposing ridiculous concepts.

The simple but effective sets were designed by Charlie Corcoran; the costumes, designed by Camille Assaf were lovely and true to the time and place.  Choreography by Jeanne Slater added much to the party scene.

Gary Thor Wedow led the youthful orchestra without a baton and used his hands to shape the music.  At no time did the intensity and forward movement flag.  Elllliot Figg played the harpsichord with a lovely delicate touch.  It was another fine evening thanks to the amazing folks at Juilliard.

© meche kroop

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