There was some ominous thunder during the second act, but the libertine finally got his just deserts in the first complete performance of the Wolf Trap Opera Company’s new production of “Don Giovanni” on Tuesday night. The weekend’s violent storm canceled the first two performances, but the power was back on for this updated staging, heavy on video effects. The company’s repertoire has been mostly full of surprises in recent seasons, perhaps justifying a return to this audience favorite, last produced at the Barns in 2005.
Wolf Trap continues to field remarkable talent in its young singers, beginning with the powerful baritone of Craig Irvin, who as Leporello outshone the Don Giovanni of colleague Ryan Kuster, less burnished in the serenade “Deh vieni alla finestra.” The original casting idea, noted in publicity materials, was that Kuster and Irvin would learn both parts and switch back and forth on alternate nights of the run. Interchangeability is a theme in the Mozart-Da Ponte operas — think of Susanna and the Countess in “Figaro” and all of “Cosi” — and some of the best comedy in “Don Giovanni” results from the two men switching identities in the second act. The idea was abandoned about three weeks away from opening night, probably for the best since most audience members would not have been able to appreciate the amount of work that went into it.
Soprano Marcy Stonikas sang with plenty of wattage, a dramatic voice with maybe too much punch for Donna Anna, while Olivia Vote’s Donna Elvira was edgy, with the right kind of acidic tone for that role. Even better was the perky but tender Zerlina of Andrea Carroll, a fizzy voice matched by a firecracker stage presence. Although Craig Colclough was a terrifying presence as the Commendatore, the Don Ottavio of Jason Slayden (singing only “Il mio tesoro” and not “Dalla sua pace”) and Masetto of Aaron Sorensen were underwhelming.
Director Tomer Zvulun modernized the story to 2014 without explaining why everyone would still be deferential to Don Giovanni as a nobleman. It seems equally implausible that the Don’s sexual adventures would cause much outrage in our time, when no eyebrow is likely to be raised at Zvulun’s decision to change the sumptuous banquet of the final scene into a writhing, semi-clothed threesome. Erhard Rom’s ingenious set featured walls and moving screens onto which video projections (designed by S. Katy Tucker) could be shown, making for a few interesting effects, notably in the graveyard scene, although they distracted from the music during the overture and even during important arias. Still, recasting the catalogue aria as a PowerPoint presentation was clever, as was Leporello’s hipster outfit (costume design by Vita Tzykun).
The small orchestra, crammed into the undersize pit, played valiantly, too many splatted notes in the horns aside. Stylish accompaniment for the recitatives came from Justina Lee at the pianoforte, although it was a mistake for the cellist to perform some of the ensemble pieces from her place in the house. The overly vigorous gestures of conductor Andrew Bisantz seemed to do little to create a clean sense of ensemble, rounding out the picture of mixed success.
This production continues Thursday and Saturday.
Downey is a freelance writer.