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Cast of Southern Ontario's Lyric Opera performs Don Giovanni
Photo credit: SOLO
Review by Paul Merkley FRSC
Toronto ON March 3rd 2019
Don Giovanni, or the Dissolute Man Punished: Southern Ontario Lyric Opera performs Mozart’s ‘comic tragedy’
The audience at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre were treated to a very good performance of Mozart’s stirring opera yesterday. The house was full. The singers performed beautifully. The orchestra, under the baton of Sabatino Vacca (who also played the continuo parts, the original playbill having specified Mozart ‘at the keyboard’) also played its part well.
The opera itself is a masterpiece, and it portrays characters and plot points partly through unusual combinations and manipulations of operatic conventions. Take Mozart’s description in the title ‘comic tragedy.’ What was the Viennese audience to make of that? They would have heard the first dramatic, solemn notes, and concluded that this opera is no light comedy. The trombones (Mitch Kehn, Cam Anderson, Corey Arnold) are a character in the opera, the character of Death. The theatrical association of trombones is death, deriving from the book of Revelations in the German Bible, in which the destruction of the earth is heralded not by the ‘last trumpet,’ as it is in English, but by the ‘last trombone’. This is the music heard near the end of the drama when the marble statue of the dead Commendatore (chillingly played by Kyle Lehmann) returns to conduct Don Giovanni to hell, the scene that ended the opera when it was performed in the industrialized city of Prague, but which was not sufficient for Viennese audiences, who needed the traditional-to-the-genre, moralizing, anti-climactic epilogue that ties up all of the loose ends, and informs us, fugally, that “This is the end of one who does evil” (as if we didn’t get that). Still I understand the Viennese taste; there is something satisfying about that epic ‘I told you so’.
The baritone trio in the first scene is one of the finest in the operatic literature, well performed by John Holland (whose Leporello delighted the audience all afternoon), Kyle Lehmann, and Christopher Dunham (Don Giovanni, whose strong voice ran an impressively wide gamut of music-dramatic expression, from the swagger and bravado of this privileged rake to soft, seductive phrases calculated for his predation). Mozart composed the music for his ensemble scenes so that all of the voice parts fit together, and each one preserves its own music-dramatic character. The comical Leporello sings with blunt lines and a small number of notes; the outraged Commendatore stridently derides Don Giovanni, who is a kind of musical chameleon, matching his tone and complexity to that of the woman he is seducing. For the noble, high-born Donna Elvira (stirringly and beautifully played by Susan Elizabeth Brown) his flourishes and phrases show that he is her equal, and for that character Mozart shows us that this is the romantic match that would have been socially and psychologically right, had the anti-hero chosen the morally correct path in life. When singing with the peasant girl Zerlina, the Don uses simple musical phrases, regular, with little ornament.
The performance of this opera succeeds to the extent that the ensembles are well performed, and in this the cast excelled. The return of the baritone trio with the visit of the statue to dinner near the end of the opera, which answers the opening scene, was effectively sung and acted. The duets between Zerlina (charmingly and beautiful sung by Julie Ludwig) and Masetto (Ryan Hofman, whose voice has become richer and stronger since his last appearance with the company, and whose dramatic work added a great deal to the afternoon) were well performed, and their interactions with other cast members were also impressive, especially Zerlina and the Don.
Sara Papini animated the opera with her stirring vocal agility and expression in the role of Donna Anna. She excelled in her solos and in ensemble work. I would have travelled a considerable distance to experience an opera production of this high quality. Instead it was just down the street from my house. In our century we have the ‘locavore’ movement of people who appreciate dining on local fair. I’m not aware of a musical term equivalent to ‘eating locally,’ but I take great satisfaction, on occasions such as this, afforded by a good company that prepares a production very well, in ‘listening locally’, and I very much look forward to my next opportunity to hear them.
Don Giovanni (Christopher Dunham) and Leporello(John Holland)
Photoell credit: SOLO