HIGH PRAISE FOR UNLV’S DON GIOVANNI

 

By:  Hal de Becker

 

UNLV’s Opera Theater and Symphony Orchestra presented an outstanding and bravely innovative performance of the Mozart-Da Ponte masterwork Don Giovanni at Judy Bayley Theatre.     

 

The opera was presented in its complete form and was a high caliber achievement vocally, musically and dramatically.  To the young artist’s credit it was sung in its original Italian language.  A conveniently mounted, reader-friendly screen provided good supertitle translations.

 

DG was first performed in 1787 with the ‘Don’ being a fictitious character who, because of his seduction of countless women, is admired for his presumed masculinity.  But his actual methods of persuasion depended upon lies, false promises and even threats.  Sound familiar?

 

In UNLV’s production the Don was neither admired nor fictitious and was presented as a detestable character and given the name ‘Harvey Weinstein.’     

 

The opera’s usual setting is 18th century Spain.  However, in this updated version the locale was Hollywood, the heroines actresses, the banquets grossly dissolute and the dominant furnishing a casting couch.   

 

The Don was assisted in his lascivious plots by his servant Leporello just as the silence of certain Hollywood figures assisted Weinstein.  

                                                                                            

Phillip L.N. Harris in the title role was vocally and dramatically in control.  His singing was impressive and well-modulated and his acting convincing.  He successfully conveyed the character’s deceit, arrogance and predatory nature as well as its occasional charm and humor.  

 

Although every member of the cast seemed comfortably involved in their roles it was from the distaff side that much of the finest operatic singing and acting came.

 

Joan Sobel portrayed Anna whose father is killed by the Don when she resists him; Karin Hochman was Elvira the Don’s fiery, jilted lover; and Tamara Richards the ambitious and possibility slightly tempted actress Zerlina.

 

One of the production’s most outstanding male voices was that of Richard Hodges as Anna’s father the Commendatore.  Though seen only at the beginning and end of the opera his presence and his rich, powerful singing were exceptionally pleasing.

 

As Anna’s fiancé, Don Ottavio, Christopher Martin gave good renderings of his two lyrical arias, particularly ‘Il mio tesoro.’  Kurt Sedlmeir brought humor to the role of Masetto, fiancé of  Zerlina.  Chrisophe Kennedy as Leporello also brought humor to his role but lacked projection and was frequently inaudible even in recitative.

 

David Ward’s direction enabled the opera’s new approach to be conveyed without any conspicuous departure from the original.  The suggestive double meanings and witticisms were appropriately adapted to the new version and his use of tableaux, having one group freeze in movement while another continued singing, was effective.    

 

The UNLV Symphony Orchestra under the decisive baton of Maestro Wes Kenney performed Mozart’s dramatic score with skill, sensitivity and, I suspect, inspiration derived from the composition, the composer and their Maestro.  

 

The 36 youthful artists comprised 18 strings plus woodwinds, horns and brass as well as harpsichord, continuo and mandolin.  Their volume never overrode the singers’ voices and their performance was better than some major professional orchestras I’ve heard.

 

Everyone else associated with the production from the theater lobby staff to PAC’s office staff, tech crew, costume, scenic and lighting designers, UNLV’s music faculty and more share in the credit for this splendid performance.  

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