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, August 24, 2018


Elyse Kakacek (Zerlina) and Eric Lindsey (Don Giovanni)-- Photo by Brian E. Long

Mozart's Don Giovanni is one of our very favorite operas and we always prefer to see it as Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte intended. But this year we have seen a few radical interpretations that held our interest. Last night, Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble presented a version directed by Owen Horsley that was informed by the #MeToo movement. It is no secret that men in power often operate with a sense of entitlement that expresses itself toward attractive young women. Da Ponte didn't invent the concept!

The problem with presenting centuries-old stories with a modern twist is that of the Procrustean bed. Situations don't always fit right and those of us familiar with the traditional will be more than usually aware of the lapses. Those new to opera, like our companion last night, seem to take these lapses more easily.

Particularly, we hadn't a clue as to why Donna Anna, dressed like a secretary applying for a job,  was sitting on a chair outside Don Giovanni's door, from which she fled shortly after entering with her hosiery falling down. Perhaps she was meant to be an actress auditioning for a part. Who could tell? Of all the characters, hers was the one lacking a point of view and a backstory. We simply couldn't connect.  And after being brutally beaten with his own cane by Don Giovanni, why does the deceased Commendatore get up and walk out?

Well, this is opera so let us focus on the musical values which were splendid all around. To begin with, Maestro and Artistic Director Chris Fecteau wielded his baton with precision and gusto, giving us a satisfying reading of Mozart's score. We were delighted to hear some of the inner voices that often get swallowed up in larger venues. The Dell'Arte Festival Orchestra played beautifully for him and Lucas Barkley made some fine sonorities on the harpsichord. 

The overture was replete with portentous chords and anxious ascending and descending scale passages, setting the stage for the drama to follow. We always love the musical jokes when the onstage musicians play for Don Giovanni's dinner and Leporello complains about hearing an excess of Mozart's music! But here, the musicians were not onstage. We also missed the strange music in the party scene in which we hear music both refined and rustic in simultaneous cacophony.

The singers were superb. As the eponymous Don, Eric Lindsey's low and resonant voice was employed with fine phrasing. His Don walked a fine line between being charming and being violent. His immersion in the character was total and we found ourselves alternatively drawn in and repelled by him. The "Champagne Aria" was splendidly performed.

His scenes with Zerlina were some of the best of the evening. The duet "Là ci darem la mano" was delightful. Soprano Elyse Kakacek, another Dell'Arte regular, stunned us by her unwavering presence in the role. Her bodily and facial gestures were completely consonant with what was happening onstage. She was an all-too-willing "victim" for Don Giovanni's seduction. Her "Batti, batti" was beautifully sung, as was "Vedrai carino", strangely delivered sitting in a chair, facing the audience and not Masetto.

Nobuki Momma's Masetto was a well wrought characterization and his interactions with Don Giovanni and with Zerlina were completely convincing and seemed very au courant. We loved the scenes of the wedding with bridesmaids and ushers taking selfies and Masetto taking offense at Zerlina's unseemly behavior.

An outstanding performance was delivered by Jonathan Harris in the role of Leporello, Don Giovanni's much-abused manservant.  Like Ms. Kakacek, every facial expression and gesture reflected what was happening onstage; he used his excellent instrument with artistry. We loved his duet with Ms. Kakacek "Per queste tue manine" which we have rarely heard, and his sensational "Catalog aria" made use of a portfolio of photos, rather than the customary list.  Very 21st c.!

Three cheers for the Donna Elvira of soprano Jessica Mirshak. Not only was her "Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" convincing in its self-righteous anger but her entire characterization gave us the feeling that we knew who she was and how she suffered and how entranced she was by the vile seducer.

Tenor Morgan Manifacier fulfilled the demands of the role of Don Ottavio, whom Donna Anna will probably never marry. He exhibited just the right degree of ardency which was just not ardent enough to win her affection. "Il mio tesoro" was cut (and missed) but he did well with "Dalla sua pace".

Soprano Jenny Lindsey lent her lovely voice to Donna Anna in "Non mi dir"; our only problem was trying to understand who she was. Perhaps it was the unflattering costume and some very distracting flashy sandals but she came across as a cipher. Perhaps a stronger directorial influence was needed. A novel directorial approach was that she was clearly lying to Don Ottavio about the so-called rape. This confused us further. He was never masked and she entered what appeared to be his hotel room willingly.

Hector Mori took the role of the Commendatore whom Don Giovanni invited to dinner. He appeared with stripes of white chalk on his face, presumably representing ghosthood.

Matthew Iacozza's set comprised a bunch of identical doors, through which characters came and went, lending a more farcical tone to the action than we might have wished. There were several instances when we were confused about what space the characters were entering or leaving. We sometimes wished that they had just walked in from the sides. 

The theater at La Mama has a balcony on three sides and we also wished that the serenade scene "Deh vieni alla finestra" had made use of it! There was nothing onstage to indicate the cemetery scene. We could have been anywhere. Props like cell phones told us that the drama was taking place in the present.

Dante Olivia Smith's lighting didn't quite succeed. A number of scenes would have benefited by being darkened, especially when Leporello exchanges clothing with his master and fools Donna Elvira. 

Claire Townsend's costumes were satisfactory, except for that of Donna Anna who sported flashy sandals with a modest dress. Zerlina's wedding dress, on the other hand, was perfect in demonstrating her sexual wavering.

Although Mr. Horsley's concept paid total attention to the rampant sexism, it ignored the classism so important to the tale. There was no differentiation between the so-called aristocrats and the so-called peasants. Perhaps this was intentional. Lecherous men feel entitled to all women regardless of their social class! The important thing here was that the women all stuck together and celebrated the destruction of the man who behaved so badly.

To summarize, we had a marvelous time, enjoying both the music and the characterizations. Our puzzlement over some directorial choices did not hamper our pleasure and probably won't hamper yours either, dear reader.

Take our advice and try to snag seats for the final performance Saturday night.  You will be both entertained and stimulated to think about gender relationships.

(c) meche kroop

1 comment:

  1. As for the voices, all three main female characters were good - but especially Donna Elvira (Mirshak), whose voice was lovely, strong and expressive. Leporello and Zerlina (Harris and Kakachek) both had great voices, and were superb in their comic acting; they worked very effectively together. And I agree, Don Giovanni (Lindsey) not only had a fine voice, but played a very sleazy seducer.
    My only serious disagreement with this review is that I found the minimalist set, using the moving doors as just about the only props, was very clever and effective, and surprisingly easy to follow.
    David S. from Jacksonville FL