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Don Giovanni

by Judith Malafronte, Opera News

PortOpera's production of Don Giovanni did not quite achieve the theatrical and musical balance of last year's sizzling Carmen, but it did showcase director Dona D. Vaughn's knack for cutting to the dramatic truth and her ability to draw realistic characterizations out of her relatively young cast. If conductor Giovanni Reggioli had matched Vaughn's authority with a firmer hand over musical and stylistic values, there might have been more persuasive and elegant phrasing from several of the singers, and better ensemble singing all around.

Left to their own musical devices, the singers coped with varying degrees of success. Of the entire cast, Jan Opalach most vividly blended musicianship, voice, language and stage smarts into a world-class portrayal of Leporello as a frustrated and hopeless wanna-be, without quite enough smarts to be a real player. Disguised as his dapper (and taller) boss, he needed a step-stool to woo Donna Elvira, and hauled it around in exasperation as she kept crossing the stage to avoid him.

Though the cast was uniformly top-notch, a light dusting of Mozart powder would have improved everyone's performance. Monica Yunus's spitfire Zerlina was near-perfect, a brazenly sexual girl who wants Don Giovanni even more than he wants her; Yunus sang with gleaming tone and lovely flexibility. As Masetto, Timothy Mix presented a satisfyingly complete vocal and dramatic package; he is one to watch. Garrett Sorenson, too, was an excellent Don Ottavio, bringing perhaps more personality than usual to the role, but his dusky-colored voice and robust singing needed just a dash more elegance of phrasing and dynamic nuance.

Musical and stylistic deficiencies of a higher order plagued the performances of Ellie Dehn as Donna Anna and Alyson Cambridge as Elvira. Dehn has a stunning voice, and brought real dramatic authority to her role, but hadn't quite found the appropriate vocal pace, and had to husband her resources after oversinging. Cambridge used her elegant bearing to make Elvira visually riveting, but needs more technical assurance to master the role's difficulties.

Peter Volpe seems born to play Don Giovanni, with his lean, athletic body, long hair and smirky good looks. Occasional flatness marred the singing, though, and "Deh vieni alla finestra" lacked real vocal allure.

Vaughn is a master at crowd scenes and she made realistic and imaginative use of choristers and extras; her staging emphasized violence, as people shoved, grabbed and threw each other around. Giovanni stood over the dying Commendatore in mocking triumph, making sure the man's final sight was of his murderer. When justice at last prevailed, the Don was unceremoniously carried off and dumped upside down into the flaming pit.

The hall boasts excellent acoustics, especially for voices, but the orchestra seemed to be muzzled, with blurred attacks, dull textures and generic musical gestures. Nevertheless, Michael Reidy's spare set, Marija Djorjevic's excellent costumes and Jamie Grant's lighting design all served Vaughn's vision.

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