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Love, schemes, devotion (or lack thereof), and comedy were the themes of Asheville Lyric Opera's performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera, Don Giovanni, heard on April 4. The audience in the auditorium chirped in laughter as the lively cast exchanged playful dialogue. With Stage Director David Malis and Scott Schoonover leading the orchestra, Don Giovanni at the Diana Wortham Theatre was a wonderful way to spend a Friday evening.
The notorious Don Giovanni (Galen Scott Bower) and his servant Leporello (Jonathan Ross) create trouble when Don Giovanni spins a web of seduction and deceit by chasing women of all ages and nationalities. He becomes the prey of a manhunt when he kills the Commendatore (Geoff Cox), father of Donna Anna (Kristin Vogel), after trying to woo her. Her betrothed, Don Ottavio (Grant Knox), Donna Anna, and the envious Donna Elvira (Kathy Pyeatt), who was left in the lurch (as it were) by the illustrious Don, attempt to catch Don Giovanni spinning his threads. However, they are not the only people on the hunt for the infamous man. After nearly seducing newlywed Zerlina (Randa Rouweyha), her new husband Masetto (Dominic Michael Aquilino) seeks Don Giovanni out to kill him, out of vengeance. What boils down to one large chase scene created the perfect atmosphere for comedic material to emerge. (For links to the bios of most of the principals, click here.)
Bower's portrayal of Don Giovanni was extremely animated, fashioning the perfect "lady's man" character. His voice was rich and round as his sang of his "love" to the countless women he sought after. Ross provided a beautiful foil to Bower's scandalous character through his soaring melodies and sarcastic parentheticals. It was particularly delightful to see his face light up when he was reading the list of women Don Giovanni had slept with to the increasingly traumatized Donna Elvira during "Madamina, il catalogo è questo." Kathy Pyeatt created beautiful contrast to the light-heartedness the majority of the cast conveyed with her dismayed Elvira. With a voice that rang in sonorous love and devotion, her performance tugged at the heartstrings. When Pyeatt sang "Ah, fuggi il traditor," her desire to see Zerlina saved from heartache reached into the audience as if she were trying to warn us of the deceitful man.
Rouweyha and Aquilino were the perfect team of Zerlina and Masetto. Their young and spry voices exuded the naïveté and innocence of a newlywed couple. Aquilino was very persuasive as the brawn of the performance, and his exaggeration of the pain he felt after being beaten by the Don in disguise was absolutely hilarious, being the perfect satire on the "strong man." As a stark contrast, the fidelity and sincerity portrayed by Knox and Vogel displayed a couple that was not so easily swayed by the allure of an affair. While Vogel's feelings were explicitly clear in her facial expressions, Knox's nonverbal responses were steadfast, creating an uncertainty of emotion, even when Donna Anna would tell him to calm his rage in the dialogue. Cox's solemnity in his afterlife appearance to the Don and Leporello was breathtakingly eerie. It was only surpassed by his booming voice, sinking into the rumbling depths of the hell where Don Giovanni was dragged. The dynamic of character personalities painted an elegant picture of parallels and opposites that was effortlessly executed by the cast, with their beautifully blended voices adding color to the canvas.
The balance of voices was not the only aspect that brought untold dimension to the performance. The ALO did a spectacular job of balancing the humorous with the serious. Through body language, nonverbal expressions, and timbre shifts in voice, the ebb and flow of wit and despair were conveyed clearly, eliciting sympathetic nods as well as uproarious laughter.
While the singers and pit orchestra delivered a compelling performance, problems with some of the technology used in the opera detracted from the overall effectiveness. Throughout the entire performance, there were issues with the supertitles on the screen. Many times, the English translations became misaligned with the text being sung, would appear too high and consequently be projected on the curtain, or simply be missing entirely for new-words being sung. Apparently, the supertitles were being projected from a laptop, because during the first act, a notification came on-screen saying there was "10% battery life left." Asheville Lyric Opera's Stage Director, David Malis, came on-stage during the intermission to apologize for the technical errors on their projections and to inform the audience they were working feverishly to fix them. During the second act, however, the supertitles disappeared entirely and were replaced by a blaring blue screen for a couple of minutes, and synchronization issues persisted through the rest of the performance. It was definitely difficult to focus on the progression of the plot due to the glitches in the technology that conveyed the translations of the libretto.
Overall however, Don Giovanni was a delight to watch and provided a nice laugh as opposed to the tragic operas that had preceded it. ALO brought an excellent cast for a very fun performance.
The opera will be repeated on April 6. For details, see the sidebar.