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Truly Elegant

Arizona Opera's 'Don Giovanni',
appreciated by MARIA NOCKIN

 

The legend of Don Juan, the man who had an unquenchable desire for women of every description, was first written down by the Spanish monk, Tirso de Molina, who published it in 1630. He called his novel El Burlador de Sevilla y Convidado de Piedra ('The Seducer of Seville and the Stone Guest') and set the action in the fourteenth century. In 1665, the French dramatist Molière told tales about the same character in his Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre.

Sari Gruber as Zerlina, Robert Gierlach as Don Giovanni and Jonathan Boyd as Don Ottavio in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller
Sari Gruber as Zerlina, Robert Gierlach as Don Giovanni and Jonathan Boyd as Don Ottavio in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller

Some one-hundred years later, librettist Giovanni Bertati used a similar story in writing the text for composer Giuseppe Gazzaniga's opera, Don Giovanni Tenorio, which had its première in Venice on 5 February 1787. It is thought that Lorenzo da Ponte, the librettist of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, used the Bertati text as a base for his own work. Bertati's libretto is much shorter than da Ponte's, however, so there is no doubt that his work is mainly original. The full name of the Mozart opera is Il Dissoluto Punito ossia il Don Giovanni. It was a tremendous success when it was first seen at the Gräflisch Nostitzsches Nationaltheater in Prague on 29 October 1787.

Erin Elizabeth Smith as Donna Elvira in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller
Erin Elizabeth Smith as Donna Elvira in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller

On Thursday 26 February 2009, Arizona Opera performed the Mozart opera with two different casts as part of its series at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. The production was directed in a straight forward manner by Michael Scarola. Its detailed, realistic scenery was based on a production designed by Claude Girard and Bernard Uzan for L'Opéra de Montréal. Costumes by Marie-Therese Cramer from Seattle Opera looked well with the scenery from Quebec.

Robert Gierlach as Don Giovanni and Andrew Gangestad as Leporello in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller
Robert Gierlach as Don Giovanni and Andrew Gangestad as Leporello in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller

Matthew Burns was a tall, slim energetic Don with a pleasant mid-sized voice and a secure technique. He shared the role with the equally talented Robert Gierlach. The Don's servant, Leporello, was interpreted by the athletic Andrew Gangstad and by Gustav Andreassen whose huge resonant sound, appealing demeanor and shock of blonde hair stole the show at the Thursday performance.

Erin Elizabeth Smith as Donna Elvira and Andrew Gangestad as Leporello in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller
Erin Elizabeth Smith as Donna Elvira and Andrew Gangestad as Leporello in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller

The difficult role of Donna Anna was assigned to American soprano Twyla Robinson and South African soprano, Elza van den Heever. The silver toned Van den Heever had made a fine impression at an Arizona Opera gala concert some time ago. As Donna Anna, she proved that she is already well on her way to becoming a top ranked performer with a sizeable voice. For her, the aria 'Non mi dir' held no terrors and she tossed it off with surprising ease. She also gave what is often an emotionally flat character some depth and dramatic interest.

Robert Gierlach in the title role of Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller
Robert Gierlach in the title role of Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller

Some artists sang all the performances. As Don Ottavio, Jonathan Boyd was a good match for both sopranos because he had a great deal more voice than the usual coloratura tenor. He only sang one aria, but he did it with strong, secure dark tones. Kurt Link was an authoritative and menacing Commendatore. As Zerlina, Sari Gruber was a charming and sultry bride. Her Masetto, lyric baritone John Fulton established his position as a man who would fight for his honor even when he knew he could not win the battle.

Twyla Robinson as Donna Anna in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller
Twyla Robinson as Donna Anna in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller

Erin Elizabeth Smith shared the role of Donna Elvira with Northern Arizona University voice teacher, Deborah Raymond, who was a sympathetic and passionate ex-lover. In this version, Elvira did not sing the devilishly difficult 'Mi tradý' and the final, rather anticlimactic scene was omitted as is usual in the Vienna version.

Erin Elizabeth Smith as Donna Elvira and Andrew Gangestad as Leporello in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller
Erin Elizabeth Smith as Donna Elvira and Andrew Gangestad as Leporello in Arizona Opera's production of 'Don Giovanni'. Photo © 2009 Tim Fuller

Julian Reed's chorus sang with precise harmonies and his singers moved as individuals rather than as a block. Conductor Joel Revzen is an excellent Mozartean and he drew light, accurate and transparent playing from the Arizona Opera Orchestra. With this performance you really felt transported back to a truly elegant eighteenth century ambience. Even though we are in the midst of a major recession, there were very few empty seats on this Thursday night. Well-played Mozart draws an audience no matter what the economic climate.

Copyright © 15 March 2009 Maria Nockin, Arizona USA

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