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The Arts
April 26-May 2, 2006

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'Don Giovanni'

Photograph by Pat Kirk
Going Down?: Jason Detwiler plays the doomed seducer of 'Don Giovanni.'

Sure Hands

Opera San José's puts all its skills together for masterful 'Don Giovanni'

By Scott MacClelland

IN THE BEST SENSE, Opera San José is always a work in process. Its Don Giovanni on Sunday pulled together many of the company's best qualities in a lavish performance that felt shorter than its 3 1/4 hours. The sure Mozartian hand of George Cleve kept the pit orchestra and the stage action running smoothly forward, even in some of the opera's most challenging and slow-paced arias. It was here that some of the singers were at their max in sustaining long lines punctuated by florid melismas, the clearest indication that Mozart had a wickedly seductive mean streak.

The production integrates more successfully the trappings of opera craft than any of the four California Theatre presentations this season. Sets, costumes, lighting, stage direction and special effects all worked together to keep the attention on Da Ponte's masterful libretto and Mozart's incomparable music. Moreover, it marks the culmination of several Opera San José careers now coming to an end—those singers who came here to learn acting and are now moving on to their individual fortunes in the larger world of opera. From this cast, they include Jason Detwiler, Kirk Eichelberger, Deborah Berioli and Adam Flowers. (Others also graduating are Joseph Wright, Lori Decter and Jesse Merlin, all featured in the alternate cast. Berioli will return next season in the title role of Madama Butterfly.)

What stood out here were the individual characterizations. Eichelberger's Leporello covered the full range of this most complex of all the characters, from comedy to terror, from bluster to humiliation. His vocal powers also dominated. Detwiler's Don Giovanni displayed a keen acting sense and two voices, one clarion the other covered, most useful for dramatic possibilities. Berioli's Donna Anna was vocally secure throughout, and as we've seen before, got generous emotion on the voice. Janelle Laurenti's Donna Elvira vacillated effectively from raging hysteria to simpering delusion, boding well for her future work Opera San José. Michele Detwiler as Zerlina was the perfect soubrette, surviving her lightening-rod role between the Don and her espoused—and much-abused—Masetto, here toughed out by Nikolaus Schiffmann. Flowers' Don Ottavio blustered, as the character is wont to do, and bravely navigated the treacherous waters of "Il mio tesoro." Carlos Aguilar's Commendatore, while secure, lacked the profundo heft the role craves.

According to the opera's Christine Spielberger, the production was based on the Prague original and did not include the arias "Dalla sua pace" and "Mi tradi" from the Vienna premiere, but which were part of the Mozart program by Symphony Silicon Valley at the beginning of the month that featured the Opera San José singers.

Don Giovanni is both tragedy and comedy, and suffers most from a preponderance of static characters who don't develop. But Da Ponte's repartee rescues much of it and Mozart's music the rest. (The fire and brimstone finale, with flaming dancers all in black, was the icing on the cake—so to speak.) In the bits of patter and the act finales, one can hear pre-echoes of Rossini, born the year after Mozart's death. It was Rossini who paid the highest of compliments to the Austrian who "beat us at our own game."

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