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Archive for Monday, February 12, 2007

Don Giovanni’ lacks Mozart magic

February 12, 2007

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The Mozart Festival Opera held the Lied Center stage for three hours Saturday evening with its production of "Don Giovanni." A well-filled house applauded politely throughout the evening. The cast of eight has extensive performance credits, and the Sofia Symphony Orchestra and Chorus provided strong support.

The brightest spots in the production were provided by bass-baritone Stefano de Peppo as Leporello, who brought comic acting ability and crisp vocal interpretation to the role, and by soprano Hallie Neill, whose bright voice and stage presence brought the role of Donna Elvira to life. The young mezzo Viara Zhelezova also did credit to her role as Zerlina.

Other cast members may have been having an off night. Baritone Vytautas Juozapaitis in the title role was competent but not inspiring, with an acceptable vocal performance and a stage manner that seemed stiff at first, but developed a more appropriate swagger by the second act. Adina Aaron, who replaced both of the listed artists in the role of Donna Anna, sang with little dynamic variation, and her dark, covered tone did not carry well in the Lied Center. Benjamin Brecher's light tenor in the role of Don Ottavio was difficult to hear as near as the 10th row of the Lied.

Naturally, it is a pleasure to hear the well-loved arias, duets and trios from this work: the high-spirited "Champagne Aria" of Don Giovanni, "Fin, ch'han dal vino"; Zerlina's erotic plea to Masetto, "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto"; the lovely duet between Giovanni and Zerlina, "La ci darem la mano"; and the elegant "Trio of the Masks" by Elvina, Anna and Vittorio, "Protegga, il giusto cielo."

The songs were all there, but the Mozart magic was missing. Mozart's exquisite music requires a sprightliness and delicacy that were mostly absent from this production. Too often, lack of communication between singers and orchestra led to blurred entrances. Equally often, singers' volume made the orchestra difficult to hear - or vice versa. From time to time, songs were delivered in a style bordering on the declamatory. And supertitles were helpful but were projected erratically, sometimes not coordinated with the score and sometimes omitted entirely for minutes at a time.

Audience reaction was mixed. Some were seen discreetly looking at their watches, others headed for the exits at intermission, and still others offered cries of "bravo" at the evening's conclusion. It may be that the acoustics of the Lied Center are less friendly to opera than to other types of performance, perhaps causing some of the difficulties noted in communication and audibility.

The Mozart Festival Opera is a sister company of the Teatro Lirico D'Europa, which presented "Carmen" here two years ago and continues to tour in this country at the present time. Both companies are headed by the husband-and-wife team of Giorgio Lalov and Jenny Kelly, with Lalov serving as stage director and Kelly as artistic director of "Don Giovanni." Krassimir Topolov ably conducted the orchestra. Both the workmanlike set of faux-stone balconies, arches and stairs, and the surprisingly muted costumes, were by Valentin Topencharov.

- Dean Bevan is professor emeritus of English at Baker University. He can be reached at bevan@ku.edu.

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