Story: Nobleman Don Giovanni has cut a swath through Europe in the mid-18th century by the account of his servant Leporello, bedding down more than 2,000 women in Italy, France, Germany, Turkey and Spain, where in that one country alone he has seduced more than 1,000. Now, in Seville, he has killed the Commendatore after the man’s daughter, Donna Anna, screams for help.
Finding her father murdered, Donna Anna and her fiancé, Don Ottavio, seek revenge against Don Giovanni. Another conquest, Donna Elvira, also is in pursuit of the licentious aristocrat for being unfaithful to her. As he flees from them, Giovanni sees a young peasant woman, Zerlina, and her fiancé Masetto celebrating their wedding with friends.
Giovanni angers Masetto when he flirts with Zerlina, but later he invites them and their friends to his home for a costume ball. When Giovanni attacks Zerlina in a bedroom, she runs and screams for help. The nobleman escapes and exchanges wardrobes with Leporello, who is mistaken for him and accosted.
After Leporello reveals that Giovanni is wearing his clothes, he meets up with his master at a cemetery, where a statue of the Commendatore warns Giovanni to repent or face the consequences. When Giovanni contemptuously refuses, he meets a most unpleasant fate.
Highlights: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s lush musical version of the Don Juan legend, with a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, has been a mainstay of the operatic repertoire since its premiere in 1787. Union Avenue Opera has opened its 21st season with a strong and wonderful performance that features many excellent voices, some familiar and others making their UAO debut, in a production guided masterfully by conductor Scott Schoonover and director Jon Truitt.
Other Info: Making their UAO debuts in this handsome rendition are no fewer than five of the eight principal performers, including Galen Scott Bower in the title role. Others performing on the stage at Union Avenue Christian Church for the first time are Neil Nelson as Leporello, Geoffrey Cox as the Commendatore, Amy Murray as Donna Anna and Karina Brazas as Zerlina.
Nelson takes command of the servant’s role with gusto and a flair for its comic elements. He also possesses a powerfully persuasive voice that resonates throughout the grand UAO venue, highlighting this production.
St. Louis native Gina Galati puts her soaring soprano to fine use in the role of the wronged Donna Elvira, who nevertheless finds it hard to let go of Don Giovanni because of his wily charms. Amy Murray delivers a fine performance as the outraged Donna Anna, as does Anthony Webb as her faithful fiancé, Don Ottavio.
Karina Brazas makes for a fiery and fetching Zerlina, playing nicely off E. Scott Levin as Masetto, the simple peasant who is unimpressed with Don Giovanni’s slick talk and sleight-of-hand sincerity, and they shine in their numbers. Geoffrey Cox is solid as Donna Anna’s outraged father, Il Commendatore.
Bower cuts a handsome figure as the roguish title character, working well opposite Nelson in the give and take between master and servant and standing his own among the many finely tuned singers on stage.
The chorus includes several performers who literally stand as statues, covered in ghastly pale makeup to accentuate their ethereal nature, in lengthy poses at various parts of the stage at any time. David Fournie, Anthony Heinemann, Lori Hoffman, Gina Malone, Randell McGee, Katherine Menke, David Pierce, Frederick Rice, Adam Stefo, Megan Sturdevant, Sharon Sullivan and Caetlyn Van Buren make up the entourage of spirits, wedding celebrants and partygoers at Giovanni’s ball.
Schoonover conducts the Union Avenue Opera orchestra with clarity and conviction, realizing the rich and remarkable Mozart score with a stirring reading interpreted by nearly two dozen musicians. Truitt’s direction makes good use of the handsome scenic design of Kyra Bishop, an imposing gray background structure that allows for the action to occur in a courtyard at center stage, where one can detect subtle variations in the movements of the statues.
Teresa Doggett’s costumes effectively evoke the time and place of 18th century Spain, Patrick Huber adds shrewdly appointed lighting and Bishop provides props. Philip Touchette serves as supertitle translation editor and designer.
Don Giovanni has been a popular favorite for more than two centuries. Sparkling productions such as the one currently on display at Union Avenue Opera indicate why its charms are so enduring.
Opera: Don Giovanni
Company: Union Avenue Opera
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Blvd.
Dates: July 17, 18
Tickets: From $15 (student rush ticket) to $52; contact 361-2881 or unionavenueopera.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb