Posted October 23, 2010 | © Photo by Karen Almond
When Paulo Szot walked out onto the stage last night to take a bow after his performance of Don Giovanni, he was loudly booed by some audience members. Was it because his depiction of Mozart's classic villainous anti-hero was so bad? Oh heavens, no. It was because it was so devilishly good!
The Dallas Opera's new season has been dubbed Dangerous Desires, and indeed its first show at the Winspear Opera House opened with bouts of passion, oaths of revenge, and supernatural vindication, along with gritty sword fights, physical brawls, and eruptions of crowd-startling gunfire.
Although Mozart's masterpiece Don Giovanni, based on the Spanish legend of the world's most successful womanizer Don Juan, is an opera buffa (comedy opera) that premiered in Prague in 1787, the story stands just as contemporary and relevant today. Polish/Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot (pronounced POW-low SHOT), who recently received a Tony award for his Broadway performance in South Pacific, played Don Giovanni, the young, arrogant, immoral nobleman who seduces unsuspecting women for amusement and then outrages everyone with his unwillingness to repent.
Reminding us tremendously of David Spade's Russell and Adhir Kalyan's Timmy from CBS's Rules of Engagement, Szot's emotionally infuriating but commanding stage presence was effectively counterbalanced with comedy relief by bass singer Mirco Palazzi who played Leporello, Don Giovanni's humorous manservant who reluctantly stands guard while his master engages in an inconceivable number of sexual conquests. Soprano Georgia Jarman played Donna Elvira, one such rejected conquest who oscillates between desiring Don Giovanni and desiring vengeance and who pops up everywhere and often throughout the plot to spoil Don Giovanni's schemes. The three singer/actors were not only immensely talented but also hilarious together in a scene where Don Giovanni and Leporello change clothes in order to trick Donna Elvira so that Don Giovanni can pursue her maid. As Donna Elvira looks out from her balcony (a la Juliet or maybe Daryl Hanna with Steve Martin in Roxanne), Leporello, dressed in Don Giovanni's oversized clothes, lip synchs with awkward hand motions while Don Giovanni sings from side stage undetected beneath her balcony.
Set in 1600's Seville, Spain, amber-toned lighting flooded over the stage's rustic porches and balconies, array of tropical trees, 'starlit backdrop, and city fountain equipped with actual water onstage which Szot used at one point when he bent down to get his hair wet before standing up and slinging his head (and the water) up and over like a GQ or Sports Illustrated supermodel. The city's dry, breezy feel was a little Spanish, a little Italian, and a little Casa Blanca-esque. Warm tones were contrasted though by the somber, blue-gray hues of stone columns, statues, and eerie dry ice fog in graveyard scenes. Colors alternated with the scene changes to parallel the story's intense tug-of-war between loving devotion and heartless deception.
Also victim to Don Giovanni's beguiling charms was peasant girl Zerlina (soprano Ailyn Perez) and her fiancee Masetto (bass Ben Wager) who spent most of the show in a state of justifiable jealousy. The gorgeous Perez was innocently sexy and cracked up the audience when she coquettishly offered out her tush for Masetto to beat in retribution for her indiscreet behavior with Don Giovanni. But poor Masetto, we so felt the pain of his anger in the midst of Don Giovanni's emotional and physical cruelty. It's such a sinking blow to the ego when a more powerful guy not only tries to woo your girl with more money and a seemingly better lifestyle, but then beats you up afterward. We just wanted Masetto to deck the guy ... which he finally did. Well, sort of. We're not sure if punching a guy disguised as Don Giovanni counted for total retribution, but it was close enough to appease our sense of justice somewhat.
The most heart wrenching performance however, came from Don Ottavio (tenor Jonathan Boyd) the fiancee of the grief-stricken Donna Anna (soprano Claire Rutter) whose father was murdered by Don Giovanni in his struggle to avenge his daughter's name after Giovanni's lusty, unwelcomed attempt to dishonor her. Don Ottavio's expression of his undying devotion to Donna Anna was packed with emotion for the entire program, and his profound desire to console her turmoil flowed from Boyd's full, robust voice when he sang,
What pleases her gives me life.
What grieves her makes me feel as if I'm dying.
Her anger and tears become mine and I cannot be happy if she is sad.
In an attempt to assure Ottavio of her love and to plead for his patience while she worked through her sorrow, the sound of Rutter's beautifully velvety voice washed over the audience as she soothingly pledged her fidelity with the words,
You must know how much I loved you, and you know what I am true.
Calm your torments, if you would not have me die of grief.
One day, perhaps, Heaven again will smile on me.
The Don Giovanni story is a bit complex, but characters in this show were quite easy to follow even though the action was moving continually. We won't spoil the dramatic ending for you; but we do highly recommend reading over a plot summary fully before attending. (You may want to watch out for spoiler alerts, but we don't really think knowing the ending matters too much for this story.) The opera is sung in Italian with translated English supertitles projected onto a screen above the stage; and while viewing the production without a translation might be as entertaining as watching a telenovela on Telemundo, we think the whole thing just might be better if you know exactly what's going on.
But don't assume that you have to know too much about opera to enjoy The Dallas Opera's Don Giovanni. Just because Mozart was a keyboard virtuoso by the age of five and could scribble out musical notes before he could write words, doesn't mean you have to be a classically trained musician to appreciate his work. If you'd like to be a little more prepared and knowledgeable though, read over our brand new article Opera: A Beginner's Guide which answers 'scores of questions about attending the opera. And also check out our article on seating at the Winspear to make sure you get a seat where you can see those supertitles!
For even more information, see:
Dallas Opera Don Giovanni Overview
Plot Summary / Synopsis
Conductor: Nicolae Moldoveanu
Stage Director: John Pascoe
Production Designer: John Pascoe
Lighting Designer: Jeff Davis