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DON GIOVANNI

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REVIEW OF 2019 REVIVAL BY OPERA ATELIER

Opera Atelier has revived its stunning 2004 production of Don Giovanni for its current season at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto. It is a success story from every angle and it earns our (usual) bow to Marshall Pynkoski and Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg for their contribution to civilized life in Toronto.

Director Pynkoski and Choreographer Zingg have chosen to use a production style that bestows beauty and grace to the opera. They use a modified commedia dell’arte, stylized acting and ballet is used judiciously and splendidly.

In the opening scene when the Commendatore  (Gustav Andreassen) appears to defend his daughter against Don Giovanni (Douglas Williams) he is accompanied by a number of dancers who perform some acrobatic dance steps. Donna Anna (Meghan Lindsay) expresses her shock at the murder of her father by raising the back of her hand to her forehead in the stylized method of expression. This style is maintained throughout and it works by giving the opera a light touch.

Ms Zingg has choreographed a number of short ballet routines throughout that are attractive in themselves and at the same time give the production the lighter flavour that the modified commedia dell’arte aims for.

There are numerous fascinating points that Pynkoski adds to the production. For example, when the betrayed and abandoned Donna Elvira sings “Ah, chi mi dice mai” about wanting to kill the treacherous Don Giovanni and tear his heart out, she is brandishing a dagger and a crucifix. In other words she will mete out human punishment and divine retribution upon the traitor.

Don Giovanni breaks the resistance of the peasant girl Zerlina (Mireille Asselin) in the seduction duet of “Là ci darem la Mano” by giving her a pouch of money and she is pleased. When her angry bridegroom Masetto (Olivier Laquerre) accuses her of infidelity, her denial is upset by her dropping the coins in the pouch. Small details perhaps, that add up to a tremendous production.

The numerous small touches are accompanied by outstanding singing. The fascinating Donna Anna is sung by the gorgeously-voiced soprano Meghan Lindsay. Her stylized expression of shock and subsequent description of what happened in her room on that fateful night, cast doubt on her veracity. Don’t ask where her fiancé was and why is she putting him off for a year at the end? A splendidly sung and beautifully portrayed Donna Anna.

The fiancé, of course is Don Ottavio who gets some bad press sometimes, but tenor Colin Ainsworth in the role, deserves nothing but high praise. His rendition of “Il mio tesoro,” for example, is delivered with surpassing tenderness, passion, beauty and resolution. Ainsworth’s performance makes Donna Anna’s reason for rejecting Don Ottavio suspect. 

If Donna Anna was ditched on the first night, Donna Elvira was abandoned on the third day and soprano Carla Huhtanen wants us to know about it with her passion and furor. Her passion tells her to forgive him but her mind tells her to flee her traitor as expressed marvelously in “Ah, fugi il traditor”   and “Mi tradì quell’alma ingrate” (that ungrateful soul betrayed me.) Dramatic, passionate and vocally fabulous.

Zerlina is the peasant girl we love. Pretty, lively, smart and able to handle her man, applies to her and soprano Mireille Asselin in the role. A lovely, light soprano with a beautiful lilt, perfect for the role and a delightful performance. It’s wonderful to see her handle the hulk Masetto who is a bit of an oaf that she turns into putty. Bass-Baritone Olivier Laquerre is perfect for the role vocally and physically.

The whole enterprise is led by Douglas Williams and Stephen Hegedus, the two bass-baritones who sing Don Giovanni and Leporello. Williams looks, acts and sings the great seducer with relish and vocal brilliance. Hegedus is just as adept in his role as his cohort but sly, ambitious and resentful. But in the end they are a team. I enjoyed their ability to act and react to each other even more than their individual prowess in their roles.

The Ed Mirvish Theatre does not really have an orchestra pit but that did not seem to bother David Fallis and the magnificent Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra who gave a marvelous performance.

Gerard Gauci’s set with its neo-classical exterior with the necessary balconies and entrances is effective and easily changeable.

I have made no secret of my enjoyment of this production and like a hungry Oliver Twist (for opera that is) I can only repeat I want more and so should you.

[Travel commitments and scheduling problems prevented me from attending an earlier performance].                                                

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Don Giovanni by W. A. Mozart, presented by Opera Atelier, opened on October 31 and runs until November 9, 2019 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto. www.operaatelier.com