Cool visuals bring new perspective to Don Giovanni

Photo by Tim Matheson

What do R Kelly, U2, the Blueman Group and Mozart have in common? That question finds an answer in Vancouver’s Opera current production of Don Giovanni. Perhaps in an attempt to bring some less traditional elements to a staple of the operatic canon, the VOA is working with video designer Bob Bonniol, whose musical credits include visual effects for U2, Shania Twain, the Blue Man Group, and yes, even R Kelly. 

While the visual effects create a depth and interest onstage (especially in the infamous Commendatore scene in Act II), what really sets apart this production of Don Giovanni according to cast member baritone Aaron Durand (Masetto) is the portrayal of the Don. A womanizing vivant, audience members don’t often get to see a softer, more vulnerable side of the Don yet that is what Durand feels the VOA offers up in this interpretation of Don Giovanni. Indeed, Don Giovanni’s aria “Deh, vieni alla finestra” in Act II paints a different perspective of the Don, and Okulitch’s interpretation offers a deeply nuanced and intimate Don Giovanni.

 

Arguably one of opera’s most dramatic moments, the Commendatore scene in Act II where the Commendatore summons an unrepentant Don Giovanni to hell is by far the most expected musical highlight of the opera. Twenty minutes before the final curtain, it’s the first time in the opera that we hear full orchestra. The trombones have been waiting to play for three hours until this point, and their arrival alerts the audience that something supernatural is happening.  With the reprisal of the overture and beautiful sextet writing for the singers, what makes this scene so powerful and impressive is Mozart’s writing. The addition of smoke, and projections of fire and statues turned this scene into an overwhelming (and unnecessary!) spectacle and the whole scene came off feeling a bit like a budget music video. For me, the true musical highlight of the VOA’s production of Don Giovanni was in Act I, when Donna Anna (played by Vancouver native Erin Wall) realizes that Don Giovanni is her father’s killer. Her pain was palpable and with the projections kept at a minimum in this scene, the audience was able to experience the full emotion of the moment. Wall’s portrayal of Donna Anna is exceptional – with performance engagements at the Met, La Scala, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, it is an absolute treat to hear Wall in her hometown.

The rest of the cast is solid, with two cast members (Aaron Durand as Masetto and Rachel Fenlon as Zerlina) hailing from the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program. Masetto was charmingly portrayed by Durand and though he is vocally well-matched by Fenlon, her portrayal of Zerlina falls a little flat.

Some other note-worthy observations: the orchestra is raised for this production. This created some interesting shadows of Conductor Steuart Bedford during the performance, particularly during the overture (when the curtains were closed). Part of the stage extends beyond the orchestra pit. I’m not sure if the idea was to make the audience feel closer to the action on stage or to create a more holistic production by including the orchestra in the stage. Acoustically, the extended stage didn’t always work but it added a fun dramatic element. The staging brought the singers out into the audience several times, sometimes with humorous results, other times feeling a bit amateur-ish.

If you need one reason to see the VO’s production of Don Giovanni, it’s not the creative visual effects or the nuanced interpretation of the Don that would attract me – go to experience Erin Wall as Donna Anna. You won’t regret it.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit http://www.vancouveropera.ca/.

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