Corrections or additions?
This review by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 30, 1999.
Review: `Don Giovanni’
If we recognize a classic work of art for its capacity
to speak to us across the centuries, then there is much to recognize
in Mozart’s "Don Giovanni," first performed in 1787, and now
being given a classically resonant production by the Opera Festival
of New Jersey.
This mythic story of a powerful nobleman endowed with enormous charisma
and insatiable sexual appetites dates back to the 1600s. Yet when
Juliana Rambaldi, as the conflicted Donna Elvira, rages in her Act
II aria against her warring impulses to both adore Don Giovanni and
avenge his gross disloyalty to her, we immediately recognize Hillary’s
(or is it our nation’s?) song. There comes a shock of recognition
in the impulse of opera theater, then and now, to tackle the big issues
of morality and justice.
Director Francis Cullinan succeeds in making this "Don Giovanni"
both modern and classic by setting the Mozart and da Ponte masterwork
in Goya’s Spain of the same era — the site of some 1,003 of Don
Giovanni’s seductions. With sets, props, and glorious costumes that
stay true to their era, these production trappings successfully transcend
their moment. With a pungent rendering of Goya’s "Sleep of Reason"
as an epigraph on the outer curtain, the choice makes for a visually
rich production with no scene more lovely than the little-seen chorus
decked out in full Spanish country regalia — a banquet of yellow,
gold, ocher, and brown skirts, aprons, vests, and velvet knee breeches.
Hitting a theatrical high note is the pairing of Victor Benedetti
as Don Giovanni and Eduardo Chama as Leporello. Although it seems
initially that Chama’s brilliant comic facility as Leporello will
upstage Benedetti’s stately, seductive Don Giovanni, as the work builds
to its climax, Benedetti draws on his dramatic reserves to produce
romantically disheveled yet searing final-act encounter with the ghost
of the murdered Commendatore.
Ward Holmquist conducts the work that embraces so many of Mozart’s
brilliant arias — from Donna Anna’s (Diane Alexander) fierce Act
I aria of vengeance to Zerlina’s (Yvonne Gonzales) most astonishing
"Strike me, strike me" plea to her beloved Masetto. Add to
this, Don Ottavio’s exquisite romantic solos, beautifully rendered
in a clear tenor by Brian Nedvin, and the many glorious and well-balanced
five and seven-voice ensembles.
As a regional organization that is growing year by year along with
its audience, the Opera Festival of New Jersey does not offer us here
individually mature stars to interpret Mozart’s well-known score with
some of the emotional depths we might wish for. It is not an occasion
for heart-stopping performances. Yet this meticulously rendered production
has virtues of cohesion, care, and timeliness that make it an monumental
asset to the arts life of our community.
— Nicole Plett
Theater, University Place, 609-683-8000. $22 to $70. Continues Saturday,
July 3, and Friday, July 9, at 8 p.m.
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