It is hard to keep an opera company, large or small, afloat. In the past few years, the Baltimore Opera, Baltimore’s Opera Vivente and Opera Theater of Northern Virginia have all gone belly up, while others sprouted up to replace them. The newest guerrilla company is D.C. Public Opera, which offered its maiden production on Saturday night, a budget-sized semi-staging of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
The venue was the Colonial Room, in the basement of the Mayflower Hotel. The downtown location, associated with modern-day Lotharios such as Don Giacchino (Kennedy), Don Guglielmo (Clinton) and Don Eliotto (Spitzer), prompted an updating, directed by the company’s founding artistic director Jennifer Williams. Don Giovanni and Donna Elvira become rival U.S. senators, with Donna Anna as the daughter of a U.S. Army general and Don Ottavio as a rising U.S. representative.
This was cute up to a point, for it allowed Leporello, Sen. Giovanni’s chief of staff, to show Sen. Elvira his boss’s binder full of women in the Catalogue Aria, for example. It was hard to get around the ending, though, as Sen. Elvira joins a convent and Sen. Giovanni is dragged down to hell, which is not exactly like “House of Cards.” The cast was generally capable but not shown to optimal effect, partly because the difficult acoustics, sort of like a living room, was not flattering; only Michelle Trovato’s Donna Anna was outstanding vocally.
In the end, too much was missing, like an orchestra with no trumpets, horns, trombones or timpani (only strings and winds, and only one of each). Music director John Edward Niles, formerly of Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, had a hard time coordinating cast members, who often could not see him, with his equally unvarnished instrumental forces, not to mention also accompanying the recitatives on an electronic keyboard. Since the parts with chorus were not performed, one wonders why more of the opera, starting with the overture, was not cut.
Downey is a freelance writer.