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.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Christian Zaremba, Marquita Raley, Amy Shoremount-Obra, Yujoong Kim, Philip Cutlip, Eric Downs, Matthew Patrick Morris, Cecelia Hall

We are always excited about a new opera company and eager to see what they have to offer. Every now and then we experience a company with a vision that goes beyond the standard one of providing performance opportunities for young singers or attracting a new audience.  Last night we witnessed the birth of an exciting new company--Venture Opera--without any excruciating labor pains. We are sure that much labor went into their production of Mozart's Don Giovanni but we missed all that.  We got to greet the welcome new baby in all its glory.

Thursday night we heard Jonathon Thierer sing at the Classic Lyric Arts Gala (reviewed beneath this review) but last night he wore a different hat--that of Founder and General Director of Venture Opera. We welcome this new baby with open arms.

Ordinarily we don't like to see our favorite classics altered in any way, but this non-traditional presentation did not take anything away from Mozart's tragicomic masterpiece but rather added something new that led to a more visceral understanding of librettist Lorenzo da Ponte's message.

The production was designed and directed by Edwin Cahill with a sure hand. The arc of the story moved along swiftly and all the encrusted clichés and tropes were swept away. The inherent tragedy was made even more poignant by the framing device which was set up during Mozart's portentous overture.

The ghost of Tirso de Molina, the author of the original Don Juan story, (Joel Reuben Ganz in a non-singing role) calls up the souls of the characters from Purgatory and, when the actual opera begins,  they relive their lives and their sins. They are barefoot and their fingernails and toenails are painted a ghostly white.

Both Tirso de Molino and Lorenzo Da Ponte were born Jewish and obliged to convert to Catholicism, even becoming priests--the former in late 16th c. Spain and the latter in 18th c. Venice. What better venue for this work than the Angel Orensanz Center, a deconsecrated 19th c. synagogue built in the Gothic Revival style of the grand cathedral of Cologne. Most of the action was staged on the pulpit but the aisles and balconies were put to good use as well.

The eponymous Don Giovanni in this performance, as played by the formidable baritone Philip Cutlip, is sinful in many ways--he is a rapist and a serial seducer, he abuses his servant, he lies and tricks people. Mr. Cutlip's Don oozes menace, not charm.  He is a corrupt priest of the Catholic church who abuses his power.   Lust, gluttony, greed and pride color his every action.

Most of the characters are guilty of manipulation. Donna Anna, powerfully sung by the stunning soprano Amy Shoremount-Obra, manipulates her fiancé Don Ottavio, stringing him along, clearly never intending to marry him.  Her bright and well-focused instrument was well employed in the service of the character.

The peasant girl Zerlina, marvelously portrayed by Cecelia Hall, has her fiancé Masetto, well sung by sturdy bass Matthew Patrick Morris, wrapped around her finger, much as she wraps him in the white cloth that later serves as the sheet on their nuptial bed. She betrays him on their wedding day and uses her sexuality and hyperbolic offers of submission to win his forgiveness.

Leporello, portrayed without the customary shtick by baritone Eric Downs, is a coward and easily bought by the Don's money, even if it is stolen from the collection plate. He is an accessory to the Don's crimes.

Only Donna Elvira is straightforward. Marquita Raley sang the role with great power. Her voice is a special one with lots of texture and overtones that made her seem a force with which to be reckoned. She is protective toward Zerlina, warning the peasant girl--and not just because she wants the Don for herself.

She is capable also of forgiveness but guilty of self-deception, like many women who think they can reform a bad dude. She suffers from wrath and also envy.  Just see her smirk at the finale! Donna Anna has Don Ottavio. Zerlina has Masetto.  She has nobody and will enter a convent. Surely she begrudges others what she cannot get.

Don Ottavio comes across as the only good guy onstage. We reviewed Yujoong Kim three years ago at Juilliard and wrote that we wanted to hear more of him. He has a beautiful sweet ringing tenor that is filled with romantic promise. He was an ardent suitor in this production and sang "Il mio tesoro" with great lyricism and finesse. "Dalla sua pace" was omitted but again..."We'd like to hear more".

We don't know why this noble soul wound up in Purgatory, nor why the Commendatore was there either. Perhaps they committed sins we hadn't heard about! Christian Zaremba sang the role of the Commendatore with a substantial and grounded bass.

In sum, the casting was perfect and each singer was as superb dramatically as he/she was vocally. The musical values were excellent. Maestro Ryan McAdams has an energetic style just right for this opera and commanded his orchestra effectively.

The orchestra was situated off to the side so that his back was to the singers and he was obliged to turn around from time to time. During the party scene, the musicians playing the rustic tune departed the orchestra, which was playing a minuet, and sat on the opposite side of the stage--a novel and effective way to illustrate the differing tastes of the different social classes present.

Pauline Kim Harris played the lute solo onstage during the serenade scene.  Every opportunity to make use of this interesting and acoustically wonderful venue was seized.

Costume Design by Bradon McDonald was apt. Don Giovanni and Leporello were dressed in vivid red and black. The women were dressed in white, grey and touches of black. Don Ottavio wore a white dinner jacket. It all seemed to fit with their characters. Effective lighting was by Yael Lubetzky.

All through the performance we were noticing little things that meant a lot toward underscoring the inherent violence of the tale. Donna Anna dons her dead father's bloody glove.  Elvira twists a scarf in her hands as she thinks of strangling Don Giovanni. Don Ottavio threatens with a red pistol.

The only directorial choice that struck us as wrong was in the final scene when Don Giovanni snorts cocaine instead of indulging his gastronomic gluttony. If you understand the Italian or if you are reading the titles, the discrepancy between action and words is unsettling.

We can scarcely wait to see what Venture Opera comes up with for their next adVenture.

(c) meche kroop

No comments:

Post a Comment