Squirrel was expecting boobs! People, there were no boobs, and for that, I was a little disappointed.
I finally had a chance to see the new Don Giovanni at City Opera, which closed today. Since Ercole Farnese wrote an excellent review of the premiere for parterre, I’ll be brief.
What I did encounter, though boobless, was rather a surprise: a rigorous and excellently thought-out presentation by Christopher Alden, and probably one of my best experiences at City Opera in recent years.
It is somewhat ironic that in spite of all the sex in the plot, Don Giovanni is not a particularly sensual opera, musically or otherwise. Its primary theme is honor. It functions only secondarily as a morality play with mildly puritanical overtones, which Alden accentuated by inventing a 20th-century setting and vaguely Frontier aesthetic. The excellent costumes, by Therese Wadden, suggested the depression-era American south, with lots of cheap wool and rumpled fedoras. (Squirrel couldn’t help but be reminded of this, but most of all this.) Friends, it really worked.
Alden has fascinating and thoughtful solutions to the thorniest dramatic problems in the piece. Rather than tidying up scenes that ask the audience to suspend their disbelief, he went the other way, placing characters on stage together who were not privy to one another’s dialogue, and making “asides” out of certain lines, which created an atmosphere of irony and disbelief that softened much of what today reads as camp. One of many examples is Don Ottavio (Gregory Turay) sitting onstage through the judgment scene, as if willing his vengeance to completion, though we know he does not attend the dinner.
Daniel Okulitsch inhabits the Don perfectly, and gave even Peter Mattei a run for his money. Of the others in this uniformly good cast, special notice should go to Kelly Markgraf, who sang Masetto with a wonderfully resonant, clear, and colorful baritone, and could have excelled in the title role.
Remember when a certain G___ M___ was going to become the General Manager of this company, and some predicted a kind of competition between City Opera and Peter Gelb‘s Met for forward-thinking, theatrically viable opera? Well, based purely on this production, i would say it’s on!