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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 24 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 43
Don Giovanni scores at Sunday matinee
Arts & Entertainment
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Don Giovanni scores at Sunday matinee

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

DON GIOVANNI
SEATTLE OPERA
MCCAW HALL
October 18-November 1


I sat there Saturday evening puzzled. This performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni at Seattle Opera just wasn't working for me. It's one of my favorite operas, having been introduced to it live at the old Met with a dream cast of Siepi, Corena, Steber, della Casa, Peerce, Uppman and Peters, with Karl Böhm in the pit. You can't expect any opera company to equal such a team. But what was wrong with Seattle Opera's opening night of the new season and the new reign of Music Director Aidan Lang?

The answer became abundantly clear the next afternoon at the superb performance by the Sunday matinee cast, with four of the principal singers being different. Saturday's Don, Nicolas Cavalier, had a cavernous voice of great power, but both his singing and acting lacked charm. He bellowed his serenade, and his acting drew attention to itself, often coming across as mere posturing. A Don Giovanni without charm cannot succeed. Fortunately, Sunday's Mark Walters had a suave charm that made you believe his power over women; and his lovely legato singing gave Mozart his due.

Especially telling was the way Walters and his Leporello, Ashraf Sewailam, worked together, broadcasting a chemistry and precision that worked wonders musically and dramatically. Both showed great respect for Mozartian style, and they made all of Chris Alexander's stage directions work, whereas the stage business had seemed overly busy and self-conscious the night before. The same praises could be said for the rest of the Sunday cast. Alexandra LoBianco is a soprano of Wagnerian proportions with a voice perfectly suited to Donna Anna. She kept her big voice under tight reign, spinning beautiful soft high notes and letting the full power of her voice ring out only when appropriate. A committed actress, she was thus able to give full dramatic thrust to her anger and thirst for revenge. Canadian Erin Wall on Saturday was no less fine a singer and actress, and her less heroic voice scored well nonetheless. The Saturday Leporello was Erik Anstine, a tall, very handsome and charming fellow, but his acting took precedence over strict adherence to the form and rhythm of the music. Thus, some of Mozart was lost, even though this ample voice was very attractive.

Donna Elvira is no less demanding a part than Donna Anna, and Elizabeth Caballero, stepping in to sing both performances, scored a major triumph. She made her killer arias seem easy, and her comedic acting was perfectly tuned to her role: one minute full of fury at the Don for jilting her, and the next minute falling once again for his seductive charms. Scoring two equally successful Donna Elvira's, back to back in less than 15 hours, is no small accomplishment and speaks highly of her vocal technique.

The two tenors, Lawrence Brownlee (Saturday) and Randall Bills (Sunday), each were vocally outstanding. Brownlee wowed us with a pianissimo second verse to his first act aria, and Bills showed an unmatched style and technique throughout. His control in that first act aria was almost scientific but also beautiful.

Singers of smaller roles sang both performances and were all excellent. Cecelia Hall's Zerlina captured most of the role's charm with a somewhat richer voice than often fills the part. Her Masetto, Evan Boyer, was attractive and just about perfect. The Commendatore, both living and dead, was amply filled by bass Jordan Bisch. His big voice was appropriately amplified, to excellent effect, only when he re-appeared as the graveyard, and later walking, statue who comes to dinner to drag the Don into the fires of hell.

The conducting of Gary Thor Wedow treaded a line between the richness and warmth of some conductors of old and the attractive crispness of more modern interpreters who go for a sound that is informed by period instruments. I missed the warmth of the almost inaudible double basses.

If you can arrange to see the Sunday cast, who perform only once again on Halloween, I highly recommend that you do so.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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