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Don Giovanni

Let's go back 226 years, to the premiere of Mozart's Don Giovanni, in Prague, October, 1787. To those attending the opening, the arrogance of the nobility goes without saying. Included in the ancienne régime's suzerainty over their subjects and servants was the unspoken, unwarranted, yet common abuse of the young women within their domain. The equivalent here in the states was the rape of female slaves by their masters.

Christopher Magiera as Don Giovanni
Christopher Magiera as Don Giovanni
Photo: © Matthew Staver
Along comes Mozart, a born iconoclast, who—in what many consider to be the greatest opera ever composed—destroys all pretensions that the nobility assume toward such behavior.

In placing the story in the 1950s in Italy, stage director Kevin Newbury enhances the accessibility of Mozart's fine sense of humor (which makes the subject matter easier to digest), while diluting the historical context in which the nobility operated with impunity; though, truth be told, today's nobility (the financial elite) operate with the same disregard for the law as that of their landed predecessors (albeit no such metaphor is made in this production).

In any case, Don Giovanni (Christopher Magiera) is reckless in his pursuit of his own pleasures; his sense of entitlement knows no bounds; he is willing to kill anyone who threatens the fulfillment of his insatiable needs. Magiera effortlessly and delightfully, in a villainous way, embodies the prototypical "smooth operator," with nary a thought to the consequences. Don Giovanni's servant, Leporello (Matthew Treviño), at first abstains and then indulges with equal zest in the debauchery. Between the two of them, no ladies within arms reach are safe. Magiera's expressive baritone and Treviño's burnished bass lend an aura of seductiveness to their scandalous characters. As part of the setting, Newbury has his actors send up movie stars, with Magiera one-upping James Dean as the bad boy and Treviño as the endearing and maleable side-kick.

Maria Lindsey as Zerlina and Christopher Magiera as Don Giovanni
Maria Lindsey as Zerlina
and Christopher Magiera as Don Giovanni
Photo: © Matthew Staver
Donna Anna (Ellie Dehn), Donna Elvira (Melody Moore), and Zerlina (Maria Lindsey), all victims or targets of the Don, importune for divine and human intervention to stop him. For Donna Anna, the intercessor is Don Ottavio (Jonathan Boyd), for Zerlina it is Masetto (Christian Bowers), but for Donna Elvira (Melody Moore), no one but Don Giovanni (in her arms) will do.

Dehn is stellar as the misfortunate who escapes Don Giovanni's grip only to have her father die at his hands; Donna Anna is the preeminent tragic figure in the story (Don Giovanni could only be considered tragic on the basis of his position, not his character), who forestalls her relationship to Don Octtavio until she sees justice done; and who, even then, is compelled to put off their marriage for a year (much like the Princess of France in Shake-speare's Love's Labor's Lost), to properly mourn her father, the Commendatore (Richard Wiegold). Moore knocks us out as the conflicted Donna Elvira, still hooked on "the leader of the pack," Don Giovanni. Lindsey is bright and clear as the poodle-skirted peasant girl. Boyd's pleasing Italian phrasing, Bowers' alternately smitten and jeolous spells, and Wiegold's commanding presence and bass round out a full house of excellent voices, despite an occasional power outage.

Christopher Magiera as Don Giovanni and Richard Wiegold as Commendatore
Christopher Magiera
as Don Giovanni
and Richard Wiegold
as Commendatore
Photo: © Matthew Staver
While the ending succeeds as comedy and pleases on the surface, one must question whether the original intention (which still holds up today)—justice meted out to men who would use position and physical force to humiliate and dishonor women—is lost. The original ending may come off as corny in some productions, but not when Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Zerlina show us that demise of Don Giovinni grants them a measure of safety and satisfaction.

Ari Pello and the Opera Colorado Orchestra bring full expression to Mozart's inspiring score.

Opera Colorado's Don Giovanni runs through April 7th. For tickets: 303-468-2030 or Ticketmaster.

Bob Bows

 

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