Virginia Opera plays 'Don Giovanni' at George Mason University

Monday, March 1, 2010

It's all encapsulated in Mozart's overture to his opera "Don Giovanni." By purely instrumental means, the composer (drawing on Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto) lays out the conflicting human emotions, larger-than-life characters and absurd extremes of this tragicomedy.

On Friday at George Mason University, the Virginia Opera staged an action-filled production directed by Lillian Groag and conducted by Joseph Walsh. The company's goals include featuring promising young singers. Its venture is paying off, for Friday's cast fleshed out all the implications of plot and characters previewed in the overture.

"Don Giovanni" abounds in vocal ensembles of every size from duos to grand sextets and more. Through them, Mozart gradually builds up the course of the drama. Few scenes in opera can match the impact of the finale, when the Don is thrust down into Hell. So it's crucial that ensembles are performed with Mozart's dramatic intentions, as they were Friday.

Most telling of the solos was the ominous, unearthly power of Nathan Stark's Commendatore; Daniel Mobbs, a strong, vibrant bass-baritone, consistently maintained Leporello's ridiculous stance; Matthew Worth's ubermensch Giovanni had a real punch to his baritone, most notably at the finale; David Krohn was a suitably comic, agile Masetto. Tenor Chad A. Johnson proved a resilient Don Ottavio; soprano Cristina Nassif (Donna Elvira) sang convincingly even in elaborate flourishes; soprano Sarah Jane McMahon gave Zerlina presence and vibrancy, though higher notes sounded a bit thin; and Nicolle Foland, a strong soprano, sang Donna Anna well if occasionally under pitch.

Timing sometimes lagged between singers and orchestra, but Walsh's pace effectively emphasized the opera's kaleidoscopic ebb and flow of changing moods and situations. Colorful period dress, carefully balanced lighting and modest sets preserved the veneer of classical grace Mozart lent the opera.

-- Cecelia Porter

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