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Subject: Mad Men meet Mozart in Philly
From: Harry Abraham <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Harry Abraham <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 22 Nov 2008 14:03:51 -0500

text/plain (134 lines)

Curtis Institute of Music is presenting Don Giovanni. Performances 
started Thursday. I attended last night. Performances continue tonight 
and a matinée on Sunday. It was so good I may try to see the alternate 
cast tonight.

Donnie G is among my favorite, and most viewed, operas. Because of my 
fondness and the frequency that I attend, Mozart permitted me the 
privilege of referring to it in the familiar “Donnie G.” People 
referring to it as “DJ-DG” do not have Mozart's blessing. (Try to 
remember, I am not at peak health).

You would think that the double cast piece would have an “a” and “b” (or 
lesser) cast. If so last night was the “b” cast. I gotta say that if 
there's ever been a better cast than last night's “b,” I haven't yet 
heard it. The cast from last night (and alternate):

Leporello: Nathan Bachhuber (Evan Boyer)
Donna Anna: Karen Jesse (Amanda Majeski)
Don Giovanni: Evan Hughes (Elliot Madore)
Commendatore: Joseph Barron
Don Ottavio: Diego Silva (Joshua Stewart)
Donna Elvira : Layla Claire (Charlotte Dobbs)
Zerlina : Ashley Thouret (Charlotte Dobbs)
Masetto: Thomas Shivone (Kevin Ray)

Conductor: Ari Pelto
Stage Director: Ned Canty
Scenic Designer: Andrew Lieberman
Costume Designer: Maiko Matsushima

Permit me to go out of sequence and announce that I'm madly in love with 
Charlotte Dobbs. She's going to be my next wife or I'm not marrying 
again. She's a very beautiful young woman with a voice and facial 
expressions to die for. Allow me my fantasy but keep in mind, I'm not in 
peak health.

Now we return to our regular programming: To my ears, now completely 
unencumbered by hair, the cast sang marvelously. It's presented in a 
small theater (The Prince Music Theater) with problematic acoustics (Pit 
orchestras always sound muffled). Yet every voice projected perfectly. 
If I had to quibble I would have a concern over Karen Jesse's vibrato 
which seemed notably out of control early on. A friend of mine thought 
that Diego Silva's Italian was tinged with a Spanish accent. I didn't 
notice it but in Silva's defense, he is from Mexico and Mozart placed 
the story in Seville.

By contrast a review in today's Philadelphia Inquirer of the Thursday 
performance was moderately critical of the voices in the alternate cast.

Elliot Madore as Donnie G, was magnificent. He had a sneer that was very 
effective and he sang, to my ears, perfectly. Nathan Bachhuber sang 
Leprello in excellent voice but he somehow didn't look or act much in 
the way to contribute to the part. Ashley Thourette as Zerlina and 
Thomas Shivone as Masetto were also, to my ears, excellent and very much 
looked as you would expect the young lovers to look.

The program claimed three hours for the performance. That would be 
complete. However my informal timings showed about ten-to-twelve minutes 
missing from Act 2 but I can't identify what might have been cut.

In our chatty little Opera-l group, I don't often list the stage 
director, scenic and costume designers. But, I was blown away by the 
staging and mystified by the costumes.

Before the show started there was a two-level construction looking 
somehow like a fifties duplex with a balcony. The balcony (as I recall) 
was only utilized twice. This jutted out on the left side of the 
orchestra and abutted the curtain. The first scene takes place in front 
of the curtain without utilizing the construction. I was starting to 
believe that this set was built perhaps for something else taking place 
in the theater and couldn't be moved. But once the Commendatore was dead 
and Ottavio pledged vengeance, the curtain went up displaying a 
continuation of the set to the stage rear. The continuation was a very 
clever storefront that represented a bridal dress shop with four 
(glassless) windows. Each window had a mannequin in wedding dress. The 
set is all bright white. There is now a tall white wall on the right 
side of the stage. The left side is angled so that at the rear of the 
stage is a fairly narrow opening – through which Donna Elvira (my true 
love) appears. Donnie G's reaction to Elvira's appearance is perfect. 
Leporello sings a wonderful Catalog aria – but as I stated before – he 
just never convinced me he was anybody's servant.

The windowed storefront and the wall rotated into various permutations. 
Each time the cutain would come down – some action would take place in 
front of the curtain – often using that part of the set that ran out to 
the left side of the theater – and then the curtain would come up for 
the next scene with the new and different position of the staging. I 
took a couple of pictures with my phone if anybody is interested.

Curtis is a school. This could not have been an inexpensive set. Ned 
Canty and Andrew Lieberman get my highest respect for their efforts. 
Slightly offsetting my praise is that I was disappointed with the 
staging for the Commendatore (no disrespect for Joseph Barron who has a 
magnificently deep voice). Donnie G's dinner invation at the cemetary 
was lame and his descent to hell is nothing more than Evan Hughes 
writhing on the ground as the Commendatore just walks off the stage 
(slowly). Come on guys! As much thought as you had to have put into the 
rest of the staging - how sad that you ran out of good ideas when you 
needed them the most.

Costuming on the other hand had me scratching my head. OK, it's the 
1950's; “Mad Men meet Mozart.” But there wasn't a lot of painstaking 
efforts to be really consistent. And let's face, how many Mad Man 
carried swords? The Commendatore and Don Ottavio were dressed in 
military uniforms that appeared to me to be US Air Force.

As many times as I've seen Donnie G (including a dreadful Met matinée 
performance where the first act stretched out to an agonizing 98 
minutes), I'm thinking of returning tonight if any tickets are 
available. For what little my praise is worth, that's the highest praise 
I can muster.

Harry Abraham
Philadelphia, PA
[log in to unmask]
(new improved) 

"The cliffs over there, you look at it and it's almost painted for you, 
you think until you try."  Georgia O'Keeffe, 1977

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