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Don Giovanni @ Tanglewood, 2009


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Tanglewood Music Center

‘Don Giovanni'

Heavens meet their match

By Andrew L. Pincus, Special to the Eagle

Updated:07/30/2009 06:29:56 AM EDT




Thursday, July 30

LENOX -- "Don Giovanni" has survived directors' updatings and other creative onslaughts. In the Tanglewood Theater on Monday night, it survived a direct lightning strike. Midway through Leporello's Catalog Aria, a bolt hurtled through the hall with a mighty crack.

At the height of one of the summer's most savage storms, which turned the parking lots into lagoons, nobody, except in the audience, flinched. It was left for the staging to furnish its own crack of doom at the end: the statue of the murdered Commendatore triumphant atop a majestic pedestal.

If you're of a certain mind, the symbolism seemed inescapable. The heavens were jealous of the electricity created onstage by conductor James Levine, director Ira Siff and the talented singers and instrumentalists of the Tanglewood Music Center.

We'll never know why Levine replaced Rossini's light comedy "L'Italiana in Algeri" with Mozart's dark comedy as this year's all-student production, especially since he conducted "Don Giovanni" in the Shed only three years ago. Maybe the right singers didn't come along.

But Mozart's "dramma giocoso" is perhaps the quintessential opera, combining in perfect balance the conflicting elements promised in that subtitle. At its center is a hollow man, all seduction, around whom all-too-human characters circle and collide. Upper and lower classes mingle uneasily until all can rejoice over the downfall of a villain.




“Don Giovanni" is also a good teaching tool for young musicians, and that must have figured in Levine's thinking. Indeed, he devoted a sizable part of his first Tanglewood summer, 2005, to a fruitful series of master classes on the opera. If you can do Mozart, you're on your way to doing anything.

The Monday performance was the second in the run. Levine also conducted, lightning-free, on Sunday, and conducting fellow Christoph Altstaedt takes over in the pit for tonight's finale.

The strengths of the imaginative production begin in Siff's staging and Eduardo Sicangco's set and costumes. We're in Seville -- the vaguely Moorish architecture suggests that -- but it's a Seville that hovers between then and now.

The soft tones of the wooden set and sliding panels create an atmosphere of light and air, even while the steep palace walls of a revolving set lend a sense of foreboding. The costumes are a mix of modern and old, sometimes verging on the dangerously garish.


Giovanni's modish Armani black stamps him as both cool and sinister. Anna wears black widow's weeds that make her look Victorian; Ottavio, her would-be husband, in black frock coat, also seems to have stepped out of a Victorian time warp. Elvira alternates between bridal white and angry red.

The action is highly physical. There is real sword play between Giovanni and the Commendatore, real horse play between Giovanni and Leporello. The erotic elements are played up -- yes, there is some groping -- without ever being leered over.

Fog envelopes the graveyard scene and the statue of the Commendatore when he shows up for dinner. Chandeliers illuminate Giovanni's party, and an ominous giant moon hangs over the graveyard.

The Giovanni, Elliot Madore, experienced in the role, seems born to it. Black of voice and character, he oozes sensuality and menace in his every move. His champagne aria, expertly rendered, is chilling as it sparkles in the summons to a party.

Also outstanding is Mark Van Arsdale as Ottavio, the eternal jerk, unable to pull the trigger on his pistol. He handles his two big arias with aplomb and makes you root for Anna to send him packing while she goes into mourning for a year.

Some of the other voices seemed either to need further ripening or to tire on singing the taxing roles two nights in a row, especially amid inhospitable weather. But each singer makes his or her character vivid and sympathetic: Evan Hughes as Leporello, Layla Claire as Anna, Devon Guthrie as Elvira, Elizabeth Reiter as Zerlina and Michael Weyandt as Masetto. The great Act I quartet is beautifully done.

Morris Robinson, a veteran Commendatore, was brought in from the outside to lend his stentorian voice and ominous presence to the role.

Levine, as always, presides knowingly in the pit, and the student orchestra responds with force and sensitivity to his direction. The orchestra's cry of agony when Anna realizes Giovanni is her father's murderer tells you exactly her state of mind even before she speaks. Members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus assist as peasants, servants and demons.


There are a few questionable details: Elvira is so much the madwoman that her vulnerable side scarcely appears, and Giovanni lacks a mandolin for his serenade. But when Leporello, who has been cowering under the dinner table a few minutes before, brings out a round of champagne for all hands during the final ensemble's celebration, it is a perfect crowning touch. In this production, the heavens met their match.



Posted on Aug 3, 2009 by Registered CommenterEduardo Sicangco | Comments Off

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