The overture to Mozart’s monumental achievement, Don Giovanni, portends an evening of drama. So why does the LA Opera’s new production play more like an inane buddy comedy that serves to rob the opera of its power?
Don Giovanni (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo) is a relentless womanizer. Aided in his pursuits by the oafish Leporello (David Bizic), he has so many women in his little black book that there’s an aria about it. Among his conquests is Donna Anna (Julianna Di Giacomo) whose father challenges Giovanni to a duel and is killed. Donna Anna vows to find the killer, not knowing that it’s the same man who seduced her. Donna Elvira (Soile Isokoski) is amongst the jilted women, and the Don currently has peasant girl Zerlina (Roxana Constantinescu) in his crosshairs. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned then our titular lothario should know the consequences of his actions.
There is plenty of humor to be found in this Mozart/Da Ponte masterwork, but director Gregory A. Fortner has opted to put the emphasis on the humor and in doing so makes this a particularly unmoving production. The cast gamely plays along with this conceit to mixed effect. Mr. D’Arcangelo sings beautifully, but he is “playing” sexy here rather than “being” sexy. As a result, Giovanni’s arrogance feels like compensation. Mr. Bizic falls most prey to the comedic approach; in the opera’s final moments he’s still playing the character for laughs that are wildly inappropriate.
The women fare much better. All three of them have gorgeous voices, but Ms. Isokoski impressed me the most with her ability to act and react in scenes. Watching her was pure pleasure. Of the supporting characters, Joshua Bloom as Zerlina’s love interest Masetto was fascinating because he started out very nerdy and transformed to a strongly realized man by the opera’s end.
Between Don Giovanni and I Due Forscari it seems as though dull brown sets are the color palette du jour. I found the sets uninspired. Thankfully James Conlon and the LA Opera Orchestra played Mozart’s score impeccably. I grew frustrated by the focus on the humor, but I could close my eyes and listen to the glorious music. I hope that in future productions of Don Giovanni we see one that treats Mozart’s work less like a sitcom and more like the masterpiece it truly is.
[Photos courtesy of LA Opera]