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Don Giovanni as Opera Buffa with an Edge

Santa Fe
Opera House
07/02/2016 -  & July 8, 13, 22, August 1, 6, 10, 15*, 20, 28, 2016
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni, K. 527
Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello), Leah Crocetto (Donna Anna), Daniel Okulitch (Don Giovanni), Soloman Howard (Commendatore), Edgaras Montvidas ((Don Ottavio), Keri Alkema (Donna Elvira), Rhian Lois (Zerlina), Jarrett Ott (Masetto)
Santa Fe Opera Chorus, Susanne Sheston (Chorus Master), Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, John Nelson (Conductor),
Ron Daniels (Director), Riccardo Hernandez (Sets), Marcus Doshi (Lights), Emily Rebholz (Costumes), Peter Nigrini (Projection Design), Nicola Bowie (Choreographer)

(© Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera.)

The production of Mozartís Don Giovanni now running at the Santa Fe Opera is a perfect occasion for a celebration of the opera companyís sixtieth anniversary. Seating over 2200, it is a grand house in part because it is located on a mountain top with a view of the Jemez Mountains. Performances begin at 8pm as the sun sets and the backstage real sky is streaked orange, and red and burnt sienna. The overture was briskly played with its electrifying rhythms and swift transitions on full display.

In creating the scene for Don Giovanni, set designer Riccardo Hernandez has taken full advantage of the open stage. Most striking is both the simplicity of the set, with arched columns stage right and left and a sphinx-like death mask rising from the rear of the stage. Death and darkness hover as the real scene behind goes dark. Scenes on stage flow one to the other seamlessly. We have no set breaks. This immeasurably increases the delight of the performance.

What is also striking is the direction by Ron Daniels. The talent, a group of marvelous voices, can also act. Keri Alkema strikes a precarious balance between passion and jealousy with an ear and eye for just the right tone. She captures this is in facial expressions, body movement and in the textures of her voice. When she tells herself to get to a nunnery at the conclusion of the opera, we want to cry out, ďPlease donít.Ē

Among the many visual pleasures playing before us, nuns are capped in sweeping white coifs, including the wimple or guimpe of starched see-through organdy. Alkema has been dressed by Emily Rebholz to match her mood, first appearing in an emerald green dress and full length forest green cape to declare green-with-envy. The white coif would perfectly indicate the foreswearing of sexual passion.

The Don Giovanni set, costumes and visual projections subtly encourage our emotional involvement with the opera, perhaps Mozartís crowning achievement. Blending comedy and tragedy, the arc of the opera, from the Donís inexhaustible repertoire of seduction techniques to his final consummation in flames is done with a camp edge. The orchestraís performance, and the gorgeous arias often sweep us into love, disappointment and even fury, by exaggerating characters who are already a bit over the top. Sextet and quartets are sung with a delicious mix of the singersí textures.

Only Donna Anna, sung with a pure beauty by Leah Crocetto, plays it straight. On the other hand, after her initial seduction by the Don, where her father the Commendatore dies defending her virtue, her two nipples poke out directly at us. The Don takes a bath along the way, and we get an almost full frontal on Daniel Okulitch. This nudity is not gratuitous, but helps tells the story of the Donís seductions and rapes.

Okulitch makes an elegant, lascivious Don. Particularly in recitative he expresses a full range of calculating seduction.

Don Ottavio is a thankless role which Edgaras Montvidas sings with a rich and sensual delivery. If his is the star voice among many wonderful voices, it is Kyle Ketelsenís signature performance as Leporello that steals the show. Caught between the need for employment and sheer disgust at this masterís behavior Ketelsen moves with grace from an exaggerated interpretation of the Donís demands to his contrition as he finds himself in his employ of a licentious murderer.

At the beginning of the production, a large sphinx rises onto the rear stage and remains there throughout. Riccardo Hernandez has said that he created this central, but recessed image to indicate the darkness of the comic tale. The dead Commendatore, whose death mask the form may suggest, also hovers over the story. The sphinx also has a whiff of the Lion of Venice, a symbol of a city, as this sphinx is a symbol of excess and death This story probably originated with Giovanni Berlati in Venice Whatever is means, the death=mask-sphinx works to root the often antic goings on in Seville. Don Giovanni is a triumph in Santa Fe.

Susan Hall



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