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Monday, January 15, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Opera Review

New production sets quite a stage for stellar "Giovanni"

Seattle Times music critic

Review


Mozart's "Don Giovanni," McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

Now playing

Mozart's "Don Giovanni" in new Seattle Opera production, Andreas Mitisek conducting, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, Wednesday-Jan. 27 (opening-night cast performs Wednesday, Saturday and Jan. 24 and 27; Sunday's cast sings Sunday and Jan. 26); $43-$141; student rush tickets are $20 (206-389-7676 or www.seattleopera.org).

Seattle Opera director Chris Alexander and designer Robert Dahlstrom continued their unbroken string of hits last weekend with the new "Don Giovanni," aided by a brilliant opening-night cast and a genuine star in the title role.

Marius Kwiecien: Difficult to spell and easy to admire, this is a baritone who commands the stage so completely that he seems to suck up all the oxygen in McCaw Hall. He moves like a panther, modulating that powerful voice to the most caressing tones in his many seduction scenes. At last we have a singer who makes the audience realize why Don Giovanni has such a long list of conquests.

Alexander's staging underscores the ambivalence of all the characters toward Kwiecien's Don, who both attracts and repels them all. Even the righteous Donna Anna (Pamela Armstrong) swoons in his arms; the vengeful Donna Elvira (Marie Plette) longingly wears his cloak after Don Giovanni meets his downfall.

Dahlstrom's set, a big and complex geometric wall that looks like granite, is full of doors and windows and clever movable elements that allow for great versatility. It easily becomes the Don's palace, complete with a witty slideshow that merges the art on the wall — an Ingres nude — into a speedy succession of images of female nudes by Matisse, Renoir, Modigliani, Manet and dozens of others. It's just the right art collection for a serial seducer.

For all its beauty, for all its famous arias, "Don Giovanni" can sometimes seem lengthy and stagnant — but not with these lightning-fast scene changes and one dramatic coup after another (most notably, Don Giovanni's dramatic escape at the end of Act I, and his even more dramatic descent into hell near the end of Act II).

A major factor in the show's success is conductor Andreas Mitisek's fleet, light approach to the score, and his perfectly judged harpsichord that admirably supported the singers. The orchestra (including the two onstage ensembles) did a terrific job.

Usually the mixing of styles and time periods in a single production is a sign of a director who can't make up his mind, but the many elements in this show are somehow never jarring: They're a symbol of the story's timelessness. Giovanni exits his first scene on a motorcycle, and is tossed a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon at a wedding party; servants and onstage musicians are wearing powdered wigs, and many costumes could fit any era. It all works.

So does the cast, with beautiful singing opening night from the three women. Armstrong's Donna Anna is consistently lovely, her voice full of clarity and passion; Plette's Elvira is strongly sung and extraordinarily complex. And newcomer Ailish Tynan is utterly charming as Zerlina, singing an exquisite "Batti, batti" that was as fetching as anything you'll hear. Richard Croft, in the thankless role of Don Ottavio, turned in a smoothly elegant performance in true Mozart-tenor style. Eduardo Chama's deftly comic Leporello was a multidimensional portrayal full of wonderful touches. Kevin Burdette was an affecting Masetto, and Vladimir Ognovenko an appropriately stentorian Commendatore.

On Sunday, the alternate cast had a tougher time of it. Morgan Smith's virile Don was outstanding, and Heather Parker was a winning Zerlina, but Franzita Whelan's Anna veered out of control in her high notes; Dana Beth Miller's mighty Elvira developed a hard edge; and Patrick Miller's Ottavio didn't deliver the emotional content of the music. But Brian Kontes proved an engaging Leporello.

A resounding bravo for the imaginative lighting design of Robert Wierzel, Wade Madsen's choreography and Marie-Therese Cramer's just-right costumes.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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