Don Giovanni lives! – unrepentant and unleashed – at Castleton Festival. The Festival has delivered the story of the world’s most famous reprobate with a terrific company, whose members pull off the tricky changes of dark and light tones of Mozart’s hefty work with remarkable facility – and the singing is top notch.
Stage director Giandomenico Vaccari abandons the idea of attempting to make excuses for the shameless libertine and softening the edges of his character. Rather, this Giovanni is conceived as an indomitable force, amoral rather than immoral, who cuts across all layers of society as well as trans-national borders to feed his rapacious lust. Neither the women he meets nor his much used-and-abused, ever-complaining servant Leporello can escape being drawn to him like moths to a light. To fulfill this interpretation, Vaccari makes use of a brilliant stroke of theatrical business by inserting a Giovanni clone into the production. The figure appears, wandering in the shadows of scenes, waiting in the wings as it were, to be sacrificed to the fiery flames of hell as his master’s best hoax on the world, while the real Giovanni moves out into the audience to discover his next conquest.
Javier Arrey, a recent graduate of Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, has the vocal strength and the personality to pull off this interpretation of such a Don G. His eyes, like his gorgeous baritone, seem to burn his way through the world, undressing women and tossing mere mortal men to the side.
The big three female roles in the opera, representing Giovanni’s countless lovers, are all well played and powerfully sung. The challenge, especially for the two donnas Anna and Elvira, is that so much of their parts demand singing at or near full throttle. Chloé Moore has created an unusually sensitive, flesh-and-blood portrayal of Donna Anna, who in one night is visited by Giovanni, one presumes raped, then, shortly after, discovers her father murdered. In her character’s journey to discover the killer and seek her revenge on Giovanni, Moore fills the stage with both dignity and poignancy.
Donna Elvira is the jilted girlfriend, common-law wife, whom I will admit I always cast in my own interpretation of the role as Janice Joplin wailing, “Take another piece of my heart, now, babe.” Jennifer Black instead convinces me the role demands a classic Spanish Donna, a woman shrouded in sorrow, who waits in dignified stillness. With her alabaster skin and big sorrowful eyes, she sits as if she were an oil portrait by Diego Velázquez. Black possesses a smooth, controlled ribbon of sound and brings convincing depth and mystery to the role.
Amanda Crider plays Zerlina. Traditionally seen as a down-home, often buxom country wench, Zerlina in this production is statuesque and curiously costumed in a floor length slinky red gown. Crider portrays a sparkling young woman who receives Giovanni’s seduction with more than a soupçon of worldliness. The singer possesses a liquid lyricism that she shows off especially in her delicious rendition of “Vedrai carino.”
Possibly the most compelling singer in the whole evening and a great discovery for me is Tyler Nelson, who nearly steals the show in his heroic, heartfelt portrayal of Don Ottavio, the fiancé of Donna Anna. Often the role is reduced to a milquetoast, a character whose manliness is no match for the steamy romantic power of Giovanni. I defy anyone to box this singer into such an interpretation! Imagine instead the dramatic sensibilities and looks of Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic. Nelson delivers his big arias with impeccable phrasing and musicality. His “Dalla sua pace” in Act I is tender and heart wrenching, and his sustained notes later in “Il mio tesoro” linger on with beauty of tone and then cascade forward seemingly effortlessly. This tenor fulfills the role with great technical agility, warm tonal coloring, and a deep understanding of the gamut of emotions this character feels.
Nicholas Masters is convincing as Masetto, the country bumpkin and jealous betrothed of Zerlina. Christopher Besch as the Commendatore, Donna Ana’s father and avenging ghost, fills the role with a commanding stage presence and rich resonance of his deep bass sound.
The whole work is grounded by a fabulous Leporello, Tyler Simpson, who lends maturity of vocal and acting abilities to the production. He demonstrates marvelous ease and economy of means to interpret this beleaguered and clowning figure. He makes his every scene believable from delivering the wonderfully funny catalogue aria of his master’s international conquests, “Madamina! il catalogo,” to negotiating a tricky love scene with the passionate Donna Elvira while disguised as his master.
The characterizations are all drawn with remarkable clarity, so much so that I thought adding a whole scene at the top of a remarkably long and substantial work by having characters walking on stage and freezing while their titles came up on the screen was unnecessary – and all this before the overture. Furthermore, while I know Castleton is an incubator for the development of fine orchestral playing, letting the overture be played without any choreographic business, which seems to be more the norm for contemporary opera staging, made for a very long introduction before the actual drama started.
at Castleton Festival
7 Castleton Meadows Lane
Castleton, VA 22716
Closes July 20, 2014
3 hours, 40 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $20 – $120
Details and Tickets or call (540) 937-3454
The problem cited with the costumes points to a lack of coherence and integration with other aspects of design. The colonnade set by Colette Pollard echoed a two-story coliseum structure. It seemed heavy and trapped stage pictures too far away from the audience. Moreover, the odd sliding of such substantial walls was cumbersome and not altogether intelligible.
Lighting Designer Tláloc López-Watermann nonetheless worked some magical moments and stage pictures, as when Donna Elvira sat on one of the raised ramparts, waiting in vain for the great love, while over her shoulder a golden moon glowed. I admired the shadowy gobo effects on the walls that provided visual interest through the overture and beyond.
One of the great pleasures of Castleton is the sound of this summer orchestra. Don Giovanni is a massively difficult work to achieve and sustain the balance of its shifting moods and complex tone. Eric Silberger and Daniel Lelchuk, fine soloists, here serve as principal violinist and cellist, with Lorraine Dulsit on mandolin and John Arida on harpsichord – all stand out in this fine ensemble.
Maestro Lorin Maazel, who continues to mentor these fine singers and musicians, and conductor, Salvatore Percacciolo, have shown that the next generation of orchestras and opera singers will be in good hands with highly talented players.
Don Giovanni . Composed by Amadeus Mozart . Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte . Conducted by Salvatore Percacciolo . Directed by Giandomenico Vaccari . Set Design by Colettte Polard . Costume Design by Lara de Bruijn . Lighting Design by Tláloc López-Watermann . Produced by Castleton Festival . Reviewed by Susan Galbraith.