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In many ways, opera is a fusion of arts. It takes the storytelling and technical mechanics of a play, the talent and coordination of an orchestra and vocalists, throws them together, and creates an art which resembles both drama and music, but is neither. The Asheville Lyric Opera, under the Artistic Direction of David Craig Starkey, has been bringing that art to the city of Asheville for fifteen seasons, and continued to do so with one of the greatest operas ever written, Mozart's Don Giovanni, directed by David Malis and conducted by Scott Schoonover.
Don Giovanni's libretto was written by Lorenzo da Ponte, and is based on the tales of Don Juan (a nobleman philanderer). For this production, Galen Scott Bower takes on the role of the eponymous Giovanni; Jonathan Ross plays the Don's humorous servant Leporello; Kathy Pyeatt portrays the jilted Donna Elvira; the couple Don Ottavio and Donna Anna played by Grant Knox and Kristin K. Vogel; the other couple of Masetto and Zerlina is portrayed by Dominic Michael Aquilino and Randa Rouweyha; and finally the imposing Commendatore is played by Geoff Cox.
The casting of this production is nearly perfect. Bower's Giovanni is handsome and suave, and Ross's Leporello is equal parts servile and silly. The chemistry these two share with each other, as well as the rest of the cast, does a great deal to engage the audience, and, even though they are uncouth, they are easy for the audience to cheer for. Conversely, the likes of the rest of the cast have very good reasons for wanting Giovanni to pay for the sins he has committed, and are highly effective at conveying the anguish he has inflicted upon them.
Musically, you could not ask for a better performance. The orchestra was spot on from beginning to end, and there were simply too many high points for the vocalists to highlight. My personal favorite was Leporello's "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" (otherwise known as the Catalogue Aria), as it perfectly suited the style of Ross's voice and mannerisms, and the audience loved it!
Technically, opening night for this production was less than stellar. The set and scene changes were seamless physically, but the dark mark over the experience was the supertitles. As is custom, the supertitles are courtesy translations of the plot, which make it easier for the uninitiated and non-native speakers of the language of the performance to follow along. For many scenes, the supertitles were either out of order, off of the projection screen, or simply missing. To the actors' credit, much of the action was communicated through tone and body language, but the supertitles were missing for several important scenes, such as the Catalogue Aria mentioned above. Lines that should have produced roars of laughter were often met with silence due to the trouble, and at one point an immersion breaking "low battery" dialogue was projected. It was all very distracting from the excellent musicianship and dramatic prowess on stage.
The Asheville Lyric Opera seldom disappoints, and opening night, even with a few jarring distractions, was a tremendous success. Diana Wortham Theatre was full and the audience loved every minute of Mozart's work.
Don Giovanni will be performed once more, on Sunday, April 6, at 3:00 pm., in the Diana Wortham Theatre. See the sidebar for details.