Sunday, June 16

Successful performance of ‘Don Giovanni’ overcomes rocky start

By John Mangum

Proceedings did not get off to a promising start at the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion the evening of Sept. 27.

The occasion was a performance of Mozart’s "Don Giovanni"
mounted by the Los Angeles Music Center Opera. The genius of
Mozart, though, promises to transcend any limitations imposed on
him by lesser luminaries.

Mozart’s opera, dating from 1787, takes the listener on an
odyssey of debauchery and deviltry, all devised by the corrupt Don.
Set in 17th century Spain, both the story and the various locales
in which it takes place provide an opportunity for a tremendous
display of color and vitality.

Instead, the audience was treated to a set that looked like "The
Iliad" meets "2001: A Space Odyssey." Painted entirely gray and
sparsely ornamented barring a few columns and a monolithic slab
here and there, it was less than a treat for the eyes.

Nor did the first scene bring much fun for the ears. With an
unnecessary amount of movement, Don Giovanni’s servant Leporello
brought his master’s sword and a satchel on stage, dropping them
loudly during the close of the overture.

As if this distraction were not enough, he then moved the sword
across the stage, creating further commotion.

Don Giovanni next emerged from the house of his most recent
victim, the noblewoman Donna Anna. Chasing him, she grabbed his
leg, causing him to fall and sing into the floor which muffled his

Luckily, the genius of Mozart and his librettist, the poet
Lorenzo da Ponte, kicked in. The action called for a sword fight,
and this is just exactly what the audience got.

Clashing in time to the music, Giovanni and the Commendatore,
Donna Anna’s father, rumbled excitingly until the Don skewered the
angry dad.

From here on, the entire evening was a delight. Mozart triumphed
over the limitations, his case argued stylishly from the pit by
conductor Lawrence Foster and the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, and
from the stage by singers suited well to their parts.

The Don Giovanni of Thomas Allen, no stranger to this role,
headed the more than adequate cast. The contrast between the
invincibility of a Don who believed he would never have to pay for
his immoral behavior and the insecurity of a lonely man bent on
impressing everyone while he simultaneously deceived them made
Allen’s portrayal memorable.

The veteran Paul Plishka made his L.A. Opera debut as Don
Giovanni’s servant Leporello, bringing comic desperation to his
unavoidable role as his master’s accomplice. He and Allen
interacted on stage with a sense of timing that elicited laughter
from the audience even when translations of the jokes were absent
from the supertitles projected above the stage. This interaction
was just one example of the excellent casting which made the
evening so enjoyable.

As Donna Anna, the woman Don Giovanni attempts to defile as the
opera begins, soprano Elena Prokina sang well enough. She ran into
trouble in the second act when her voice showed some signs of
strain in the coloratura of her final aria.

Thomas Randle appeared as Anna’s fiancé Don Ottavio,
seeming at first to under-characterize in his quest for revenge
against Don Giovanni. His reedy tenor bloomed nicely, though, when
he announced his departure to punish Don Giovanni in his Act 2

Appearing for the first time as Zerlina, the peasant girl Don
Giovanni attempts to seduce on her wedding day, mezzo-soprano Paula
Rasmussen injected her part with vitality. Her singing was
excellent, and she acted very well opposite baritone John Atkins,
who portrayed her husband Masetto.

A consistently high level of singing was wedded to colorful
costumes and ornate plots which brought some life to the drab
stage. The same excellent choreography which had provided the
bracing sword fight crowned Act 1 with an expertly turned

The sword fight was probably the best thing that could have
happened to the performance. Once the Commendatore was dead, things
got good. When he came back to life to send Don Giovanni to hell,
things got even better.

Louis Lebherz, who was the evening’s Commendatore, sang with
tremendous power. His rich bass voice conveyed the gravity of the
sentence passed on the Don by the spirit of the angry father with
the perfect measure of authority.

The choke hold confrontation between Don Giovanni and the man he
killed had an undeniable effect on the audience. The interaction
between Allen and Lebherz even overcame the supertitles, crushing
the translator’s attempt to trivialize one of opera’s most bracing
scenes with humor.

This scene was the high point of a performance that, despite its
rocky start, became quite successful in its attempt to navigate the
seas of one of music’s greatest offerings. With consistently good
singing, colorful costumes, and some catchy lighting effects, L.A.
Opera gave the audience something that was certainly up to the
demands of Mozart’s high level of inspiration.

OPERA: L.A. Opera’s "Don Giovanni." Sept. 27,
30, Oct. 2, 5, 11, 14, 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 8, 1 p.m. At the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion. Tickets $21 to $115, $10 for students. For more
info, call (213) 972-7211.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.