The team of George Manahan and Chas Rader-Shieber, respectively the conductor and director who brought us an outstanding production of William Bolcom’s A Wedding two summers ago, came back on Friday with another impressive production: Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Not many works of art can compare to this dramatically exciting and musically incomparable achievement. It may be the greatest opera of all, and it is certainly among the most completely satisfying. From the opening scene, in which Don Giovanni (Zachary Altman) slays the Commendatore (Richard Ollarsaba), the father of Donna Anna (Megan Hart), the tension and excitement never flag. Even when Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte employ comedy, as when the Don’s servant Leporello (Adam Cioffari) reads the list of his master’s conquests to an angry Donna Elvira (Julie Davis), there’s an undercurrent of menace that won’t relent.
Part of what makes Don Giovanni so great is Mozart’s writing for the ensembles, and the glory of this particular production was very much due to the consistency of all eight principal voices. Tenor Aaron Blake handled the elegant, passionate long lines required by the role of Don Ottavio with great confidence and clarity, thus earning one of the night’s most powerful ovations. As the peasant girl Zerlina, mezzo-soprano Julia Dawson was by turns innocent and daring, ably negotiating what is perhaps the opera’s most sophisticated bit of acting.
No account of Don Giovanni would be complete without some notice of the role of Donna Elvira, which was given a robust and thorough treatment by Davis. Donna Elvira comes the closest of any of the characters to catching the spirit of Don Giovanni, and her mixed emotions toward him form the fulcrum on which the ever-shifting weight of audience allegiance turns. In the final sequence, when the Don’s fate is sealed and his end is near, the tension remains nearly unbearable. This production succeeded admirably in carrying off the final, supernatural act of the Don’s life with a spectacular stage set that gave the audience in the Granada a glimpse of the gates of hell—just the kind of big moment this theater was made for.