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.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


Suchan Kim, Maestro Teddy Poll, Brace Negron, Sarah Hayashi, Jesus Murillo, Pavel Suliandziga, and Laura León
(Liana Guberman and Paul An not visible)

We have lost count of the number of times we have seen Mozart's meisterwerk Don Giovanni; this year alone we have seen it at least 4-5 times. We never tire of it; the marriage of Mozart's music and Da Ponte's libretto always makes for a great evening--but only if the singing is superb. Bare Opera assembled a stellar group of singers for their current production and we would expect no less of this exemplary company in their fifth season. There was no one onstage who didn't give their all.

Directors always look for something new to say about the reprobate Don--the pussy grabbing predator who uses his position of power to seduce or overcome women, a sociopathic narcissist who has no awareness of other people's feelings, one who will readily betray those who are dumb enough to fall under his spell. If this sounds familiar and relevant to you, dear reader, please know that it does to us as well.

Taking for granted that the performances were uniformly excellent from both dramatic and vocal standpoints, let us take a look at what Stage Director Malena Dayen added to our understanding of the story. Her Don was almost completely lacking in charm; baritone Suchan Kim (a very nice man--trust us on this point) was obliged to search for an inner demon to come up with such a nasty portrayal. Our only opportunity to hear the gentle colors of his beautiful instrument was in the serenade "Deh, vieni alla finestra".

Donna Anna (the splendid soprano Laura León) was the Don's victim-- excuse me, she was a "survivor" in today's parlance--and there was not a whiff of disdain for the loyal Don Ottavio (tenorrific Pavel Suliandziga) who evinced strength of character in place of the usual wimpiness. We have no doubt he will stand by his beloved until her grief abates and they will wed.

Zerlina (portrayed by the winsome Sarah Hayashi) is rather narcissistic herself, wanting to have her cake and eat it too, manipulating the poor Masetto (the excellent Jesus Murillo) who is understandably angry but just as enthralled by her as Donna Elvira is by Don Giovanni, and just as ready to forgive--an interesting parallel.

In this production, Donna Elvira is not a source of amusement but one of those women who just cannot give up on her desire to reform a "bad boy". Soprano Liana Guberman in the role showed a wide range of emotions from rage to forgiveness. We get it. She is complicit in her own misery which we see a lot in women who are taken in by sociopathic men. The vocalism was as fine as the acting.

Bass Brace Negron did a swell job creating the role of Leporello and demonstrated how flunkies can be bought by an artful and deceitful leader. So much of this story resonates with the current political climate.

Paul An made a brief appearance as the Commendatore trying to protect his daughter's honor and later as the statue who invites the Don to dinner in Hell.

There were directorial touches that we liked a lot. Our favorite one found Don Giovanni seducing Zerlina in a partner changing dance that was choreographed by Troy Ogilvie with Emily Morrison's assist.

There were a few minor lapses as well. Changing the duel between Don Giovanni and the Commendatore into the Don stabbing the Commendatore in the back emphasized his evil nature but gave the lie to Donna Anna's anguish about the wound in her father's breast.

Also, if the text involves calling someone over, it seems strange if they are already there. And to say someone has fallen when they are still standing is likewise a minor flaw. But we notice the little things; just can't help it.

There were several omissions or cuts that kept the story moving along without comic relief. We rarely see the scene between Zerlina and Leporello and did not miss it but we must admit that we missed the final scene in which the Don is dining and teasing Leporello who is sneaking food behind his back. We also missed the epilogue in which the moral of the story is reiterated.

In terms of musical values, it seemed criminal to omit "Il mio tesoro" with such a terrific tenor as Mr. Suliandziga on board. Yes, we know that Mozart himself revised his own work to suit the artists available and that only strengthens our case.

Under the direction of Maestro Teddy Poll, the chamber orchestra (string quartet plus bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn with Laetitia Ruccolo performing the piano part) sounded just right except for the ballroom scene in which there are three types of dance music played simultaneously. There just wasn't enough "manpower" to pull that off.

The major innovation brought by Ms. Dayen was the use of video projections designed by Sangmin Chae. This is an interesting idea to replace sets with video but the results were mixed. The offstage rape scene is always difficult to accept; what woman pursues her would be rapist???? But the video projections during the overture did not do much to illuminate the event. We saw a distorted face and maybe some hands choking a neck.

At one point something was projected that looked vaguely like an apple. We found much of this distracting and puzzling. Our companion kept looking at us and shrugging and peppered us during the intermission with questions we couldn't answer.

The projection of the Commendatore's face in the final scene was projected as an old fashioned "negative" with white and black reversed.  It just looked like an ugly mask. And there was a delay between the sound and the visuals that just looked like bad lip-syncing. The presence of the videographers on set and next to the orchestra was distracting and audience members kept twisting around in their chairs.

The work was performed in a large empty space with the audience seated on two opposing sides in two rows, an arrangement providing a sense of intimacy with the story. One minor improvement of such an arrangement might be to angle the chairs a bit toward the center. This is the same problem we observe at the New York Philharmonic in the levels above the orchestra, as well as the side boxes at the Metropolitan Opera House.  Just sayin'.

Costumes by Theresa Miles were completely off base and Donna Elvira's was completely unflattering. The only distinguishing feature of the aristocratic women was the headdress--you know, the comb with a mantilla. It seems important to us to mark the difference between the aristocrats and the peasants. A sense of time and place was lacking.

Before we close we would like to acknowledge the contributions of the ensemble: Estelina Syla, Folei Browne, Sarah Blau, Pedro Sequera, Zachary Sebek, and Sanford Leff.

There is only one more performance today and, as of last night, only two seats remaining. Will you be the lucky one?

© meche kroop

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