'Giovanni' Seductive as N.Y. guy.(ARTS)(OPERA)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 26, 2002 | Go to article overview

'Giovanni' Seductive as N.Y. guy.(ARTS)(OPERA)


Byline: T.L. Ponick, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The In Series' relocation of "Don Giovanni" to modern, suburban New York offers a refreshing departure from the tried and true. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart paints a musical picture of the legendary womanizer known to Americans as Don Juan in "Don Giovanni," one of the most durable operas in the repertoire. The Don seduces ladies by the thousands, recording name, rank and serial number in his ever-growing black book. In the composer's didactic conclusion, the evil and occasionally murderous Don finally takes things a bit too far and is transported directly to hell by the ghost of the man he killed in Act I.

The In Series re-imagines Mozart's music and Lorenzo Da Ponte's original libretto as "The Sopranos" family and gives it the title "Don Giovanni (of Long Island)." Mozart's music, efficiently performed here by a string quartet, piano, and electric harpsichord and organ, remains largely intact. Many of the recitatives are cut or turned Mozart's music, efficiently performed here by a string quartet, piano, and electric harpsichord and organ, remains largely intact. Many of the recitatives are cut or turned into spoken dialogue, shortening the work's running time to about 21/2 hours. Meanwhile, Da Ponte's book gets a complete face-lift, with his eminently singable Italian translated into surprisingly singer-friendly, if occasionally crude, Mafioso-style English by LB Hamilton.

Generally, a successful dramatic treatment of Mozart's greatest opera lies in establishing a sense of the Don's gradual descent from mirth to gravity. "Don Giovanni (of Long Island)" remains broadly comic, undercutting even Act I's opening murder. The tone is smart-alecky throughout, and, oddly, probably more faithful to the character of the Don than Mozart's opera itself, in which divine retribution plays a crucial role in restoring morality to the world. In this story, there is no morality.

Director Joe Banno's creative update on the opera envisions "Don Giovanni" as a tableaux of musical beds. Indeed, that's exactly what we get on Clark Street's half-round stage in a set designed by David C. Ghatan - five large beds, outfitted in an L.L. Bean style (no white linens, please), upon which and in which Giovanni has his fun. A shockingly minimalist concept, to be sure, but it works. Beds, after all, are usually where Don Giovanni's adventures wind up.

The music? The In Series, despite its continuing financial difficulties, has come up with a youthful cast of astonishing quality.

In the title role of Giovanni Fortuna, baritone Robert McDonald - clad in a chic Italianate suit and substituting a Palm Pilot and cell phone for the Don's outdated black book - pairs off his thuggish good looks with an excellent sense of comic timing. His crisp baritone carries well in the theater's somewhat hard space and conveys a strong sense of authority and control. He is the ultimate sexual predator.

Tenor Bryce Westervelt, although a last-minute addition to the cast, performs splendidly as the faithful Ottavio d'Amico, a character who, unlike Giovanni, never quite gets the girl. His delicately nuanced lyric voice and superb diction are perfect for the role, which contains the sweetest and most intricate arias in the opera.

Leather-jacketed baritone Terry N.

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