music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, from the operas Le Nozze di Figaro/The Marriage of Figaro; Don Giovanni; Cosi fan tutte/Women Are Like That
book by Charlotte Stoudt; English lyrics for Act II by Nick Olcott and Bari Biern
directed by Colin Hovde
music direction by Alice Mikolajewskir
reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
If you find opera off-putting and elitist, bring on the men for Mozart’s Men. Some of those aristocrats may be villains but it’s time they had a trial to defend themselves. That’s the premise for this refreshing spoof that takes the “grand” out of opera and brings it to earth where we can hear some of the best operatic singing voices in the Washington area.
Basically, Charlotte Stoudt’s play uses dialogue as an excuse to take Mozart’s arias, duets, trios out of their operatic context and reinvent a plot. Whereas the great acting coach Stanislavski taught opera singers to walk naturally on stage, Stoudt gives them an accessible, comic story to act out. It’s a fantastic concept. What I found enjoyable in this production is that the performers go beyond standing like emoting statutes next to a grand piano. They move on stage like seasoned actors under the direction of Colin Hovde, and the singing voices are gorgeous.
We start in Hell. Two card players sit on the arena stage floor and flip cards to each other. Candles flicker. Chairs are overturned. We are in the Second Circle where the lustful are punished. In Act I, the vocal music is sung in Italian without sur-titles but spoken dialogue in English explains what’s going on. Don Giovanni (William Heim), the serial seducer of women, ever-ready (he wears no socks) and Count Almaviva (Bryan Jackson), the satanic nobleman with a lecherous eye, are on trial for abusing women.
The Lawyer (tenor Richard Tappen) argues his client’s case before The Judge (Jenifer Deal) for a return to earth, but the witness Donna Elvira, sung by Laura Lewis, who has a lovely, full-bodied soprano voice, testifies how Don Giovanni deserted her after wedding her, in the trio “Who can tell me where the wretch has gone?” Then the Don’s often reluctant servant, Leporello, dramatically rendered by vibrant-voiced, bass-baritone Aaron Silverman, whisks out a list of names that falls to the floor. He sings the famous aria, “The Catalogue,” from Don Giovanni “My dear lady, this is the catalogue of women,” detailing the over 2,000 victims of the Don’s amorous conquests. Silverman commendably throws himself into the role to the hilt, with expressive and sweeping gestures.
Even though the Don, roguishly acted by William Heim, testifies in his own behalf by turning his charm on The Judge with “Come to the window, my treasure” from Giovanni, there’s no way out. The audience may be seduced by Heim’s suave come-on and removal of hairpins from The Judge’s hair, but she is not. Furthermore, Count Almaviva, expressively sung for nuance by baritone Bryan Jackson, is in a hot spot too. I loved the way the actors spun around in circles as if in a whirlwind between the numbers from The Marriage of Figaro; then stop long enough to sing: as Figaro (Terry Eberhardt), Marcellina (Tara McCredie) and Susanna (Randa Rouweyha) and the Countess Rosina (Laura Lewis) attack the lecherous Count with damning arias and ensembles, excerpted from The Marriage of Figaro.
Thereafter, in a surprising twist, The Judge, played with steely reserve by Jenifer Deal, charges the defendants Almaviva and the Don with testimony that is so confusing, “no one can possibly follow it without a synopsis…..Your testimony is baroque at best.” Of course, the Judge is talking about Mozart’s opera plots.
The first act builds to The Judge’s judgment, sending Almaviva and Don Giovanni back to earth for a chance to escape punishment. They may return to earth for a single day to find two loyal woman to take their places. But what woman will trade her place on earth for Hell?
In Act II, the tropical wind cools down and the plot falters, but the gorgeous singing voices do not. Almaviva and Don Giovanni take the wager that they can find a faithful lover on earth. And all librettos in Figaro’s Hair Salon are sung in English, as adapted by Nick Olcott and Bari Biern. Here things get a little silly. The plot falters, but the gorgeous singing voices do not. The plot is contrived to get everyone on the same page. But then with such glorious singing, I was ready to accept anything illogical or bizarre. Although the action definitely weighs down, the singers pay attention to detail and shading. Hopefully, more performances will fix the pacing.
Some moments are outstanding. Baritone Bryan Jackson, who has performed with the Opera Theater of Northern Virginia and with the Washington National Opera, knocks us out of our seats with his powerful, resonant voice as Count Almaviva in the wonderfully dark aria, “Don Giovanni, you invited me to dinner.” And talented baritone Terry Eberhardt as Figaro chastises Count Almaviva with the well-known aria, “If you wish to dance, Mr. Count,” in Act I.
When the resolution was stretched to the breaking point, I couldn’t help wondering if bringing in some feminists would help. Somewhere in the ranks of women, some would rebel against the seductions of the overzealous Don and provide the logical reason for returning him to Hell, where once again, the libretto returns to Italian. But most certainly, mock-heroic comic opera is a promising opening for the inaugural performance for The In Series 2008/2009 season.
Running Time: 1:50 with one 15 minute intermission.
When: Wed., September 24 at 7:30 p.m.; Sat., September 27 at 3 p.m.; Sun., September 28 at 7 p.m.; Mon., September 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Source, 1835 14th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009. (U Street-Cardozo Metro, Green Line, 13th St. exit). Street parking is possible. Paid parking garages available.
Tickets: General admission: $33-36; Seniors: $30-33, Students: $18.
Info and Reservations: 202-204-7760, or visit the website.