At ‘Don Giovanni’ and other performances, storm is a showstopper


Marcy Stonikas and Jason Slayden in Wolf Trap’s production of “Don Giovanni,” cut short on Friday night. (Carol Pratt)
July 1, 2012

Don Giovanni survived at Wolf Trap on Friday night. There was thunder and lightning, to be sure, but those special effects accompanied not a descent into hell but the storms that passed overhead and wiped out the power just as Olivia Vote, a young mezzo, was gearing up to begin Donna Elvira’s aria “Mi tradi” (“He betrayed me”). All that betrayed her, though, were the lights, which flickered and flashed and then went out, leaving Vote standing in darkness.

There were a few bright hopes, voiced from the stage — first by a staffer and then by Kim Witman, the company’s director, illuminated by flashlights and the gentle glow of exit lights powered by the emergency generator — that the power could be gotten up and running again, but after a few minutes the company conceded defeat. “This guy gets to live tonight,” Witman said when she finally dismissed the audience, taking the stage with Craig Irvin, who played Giovanni. Few present had yet realized the magnitude of the storms, or the fact that the show would be silenced for the whole weekend: Sunday’s matinee performance of “Don Giovanni” was also canceled (as was Saturday’s scheduled performance at the Filene Center of “The Pirates of Penzance”).

It had to be particularly frustrating for the singers: The show had been running for about two hours at that point, so it was heading into the home stretch; Vote (who played Donna Elvira as an aggressive yet endearingly coltish femme fatale, looking a little like Jessica Rabbit — a film-noir caricature — in Vita Tzykun’s costume design) was about to have her big moment, and Irvin was almost robbed of his chance to descend into hell at all, since Wolf Trap is trading off the roles of Don Giovanni and his servant Leporello between him and Ryan Kuster, and Kuster is scheduled to sing it at the two remaining performances Thursday and Saturday. The company has, however, rescheduled Sunday’s performance; it will take place Tuesday, and tickets to the Sunday show will be honored.

This was the model for performances all over the region this weekend: high drama on Friday night, followed by a couple of days of scrambling. At the Castleton Festival, farther west in Rappahannock County, the storm hit earlier, knocking out power just 30 minutes too early to serve as the storm scene in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”

Realizing that it was safest for the audience to remain seated in the Festival Theater rather than try to drive on the narrow and ill-lit country roads, Castleton’s general director, Nancy Gustaf­son, called on several performers to ad-lib to keep everyone entertained. First up was the violinist Eric Silberger, in town to play for Lorin Maazel, who made clear, in the Fuga movement of Bach’s G Minor Sonata for solo violin and a couple of Paganini caprices, lit by the ushers’ flashlights, that he was a considerable talent; it turned out he had placed fifth in last year’s International Tchaikovsky Competition.

This was followed by some less-noteworthy offerings from the singers, and, ultimately, by excerpts from the second act of the opera, accompanied by a piano hauled out to one corner of the house. Finally, the storm subsided enough to allow a cortege of cars to make its way down the roads, clearing fallen branches as necessary. Castleton wasn’t able to get a generator in time to save opening night of Bizet’s “Carmen” on Saturday — the show has been rescheduled for Wednesday — but it was able to power the festival’s smaller Theater House for a recital of young singers from the Castleton Artists Training Seminar on Saturday afternoon, as well as resurrecting “The Barber of Seville” on Sunday afternoon.

At Dance Place, scheduled performances by the Good Foot Dance Company on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon were canceled because of the lack of power. The Strathmore campus was also closed, necessitating a last-minute change of venue for “Serenade,” the new international choral festival in Washington that had scheduled a free concert of more than 325 singers from seven countries, including Namibia, Australia and Colombia. The concert was moved to the National Presbyterian Church.

But sometimes, special circumstances can inject a shot of adrenaline into a performance, which would benefit “Don Giovanni’s” young cast. In the two hours performed before the power went out, Andrew Bisantz did a credible job conducting the small orchestra, and Tomer Zvulun’s staging got lots of laughs from the audience, though it was regrettable that he upstaged so many moments with gags involving projections from the iPad on screens around the stage. (The gimmick of having Leporello inventory Giovanni’s amatory adventures on an iPad, seen at Wolf Trap’s anniversary gala last summer, was expanded on here to such a degree that the audience’s laughter almost drowned out Kuster’s good singing, a phenomenon repeated during Giovanni’s famous Champagne aria.)

What was missing, in that portion of the opera, was the musical or dramatic leadership to help the singers inhabit their roles a little more — starting with Irvin, who had a fine voice, looked good and sang all the notes but had room to be more seductive, more of a presence on stage. And at some of the opera’s most sublime moments — the trio before Don Giovanni’s party, or the balcony scene where Giovanni forces Leporello to pretend to be him and woo Elvira — the young singers (including Marcy Stonikas as a generally good Donna Anna) oversang or overplayed. Andrea Carroll, as Zerlina, was the standout, fusing colorful singing and strong acting in a convincing portrayal of a character who’s easy to dismiss as a lightweight — and Aaron Sorensen, as her new husband, Masetto, was pretty adorable.

But the excitement of the weekend, and the odd sensation of singing an unplanned performance after having to stop a scheduled one in mid-cry, may well free up the singers Tuesday — if the power is back on.

Downey is a freelance writer. Sarah Kaufman contributed to this report.

Anne Midgette came to the Washington Post in 2008, when she consolidated her various cultural interests under the single title of chief classical music critic. She blogs at The Classical Beat.
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