Voices make the opera, and “Don Giovanni,” Lyric Opera of Chicago’s opening production of its 60th season, had stellar vocal artists to spare.
The title role in this Mozart masterpiece is sung by Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, not only a powerful singer, but a formidable embodiment of the aristocrat whose womanizing ways lead to his damnation.
Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka (Violetta in Lyric’s “La Traviata” last season) is Donna Anna, a headstrong noble woman vowing revenge on Giovanni after he tries to rape her and then murders her father all in the opening scene. Ana Maria Martinez is the angry and heartbroken Donna Elvira, who though seduced and abandoned, is the only one who truly loves this rogue. Lyric fans heard the golden voice of this American soprano twice last season (as the eponymous “Rusalka” and again as Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello”) and she is an unforgettable Elvira.
Canadian soubrette Andriana Churchman is cast as the saucy Zerlina, the peasant girl who nearly runs off with Giovanni on her wedding day. The aria in which she tries to patch things up with her husband-to-be (“Batti, batti, bel Masetto”) is a show-stopper.
Zerlina’s intended, Masetto, is sung by the fine American bass-baritone Michael Sumuel, and Italian tenor Antonio Poli, who plays the character betrothed to Donna Anna, has one of the most beautiful voices in the opera. Both roles, however, are eclipsed by the high-profile parts of their respective women.
One of the most entertaining numbers in this opera is the catalogue aria, sung by Giovanni’s servant Leperello, who enumerates for the anguished Elvira the Don’s conquests throughout Europe: “…in Spain, one thousand and three.” American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, who has the lion’s share of the comedy in this drama, is a natural for this role, his warm voice carrying along the action.
“Don Giovanni” is peppered with humor and clever one-liners. But make no mistake, this is a drama most profound, which ends in eternal punishment for the legendary lecher…yes, the kind with billowing smoke rising from the fire and brimstone of hell.
The opera traditionally takes place set in 18th century Spain, but stage director Robert Falls, artistic director of the Goodman Theatre several blocks east, has reset this gem in 1920s Spain well before Franco and his fascists. Were the ‘20s “roaring” in Spain then? Well, Giovanni does briefly dance the Charleston and the lavish banquet scene suggests Gatsby-era excess.
But Falls’s vision falters when Donna Elvira, seduced and abandoned by the faithless aristocrat, arrives onstage with a motorcycle and is tricked out in bright red capri pants. And in the final scene the reckless nobleman is bare-chested, suggesting Yul Brenner as the King of Siam.
Falls boldly unlocks the physicality of the characters—Don Giovanni is always grabbing women and punching the men who try to stop him. The director is from the theater, so his taste for drama is to be expected, but there is a lot of yanking people around.
Just about six weeks ago, James Conlon presented this opera without sets in Ravinia’s Martin Theatre, and it was very well done. The Lyric stage, however, cries out to be filled, and this grand production has by turns Giovanni’s massive stone mansion, several tiers of vast gardens and one enormous dining room table, where at the end, he eats alone. Alone, that is until the statue of the Commendatore, the ghost of Donna Anna’s father, arrives to accept Giovanni’s arrogant invitation to dinner.
The Lyric Opera Orchestra, under the baton of music director Sir Andrew Davis, is in fine form, pouring out Mozart’s magnificent score with spirit and precision.
Opening night was the first of 10 performances of “Don Giovanni” running in repertory through October 29 with Strauss’ “Capriccio.” It was the first opera essayed by the fledgling Lyric Theatre in 1954 and this production does full justice to the towering libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.
“Don Giovanni” is sung in Italian with English super-titles. Running time is three and a half hours. For more information, visit the Lyric’s website or call 312-332-2244 during business hours.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg.