The Washington Civic Opera took on a heavy challenge Saturday night, giving a concert performance of Mozart's "Don Giovanni' in Constitution Hall, only a few blocks from where Joseph Losey's film of the same opera has been showing and a stone's throw from the scene of the Vienna State Opera's recent, triumphant visit.
The Civic Opera is not competing in that league, of course, and at its own level it gave a fine, though flawed, performance. Among the excellent things about this presentation were to use of the bright, singable translation by Ruth and Thomas Martin, the fact that almost half of the English words could be understood even in the terrible acoustics of Constitution Hall, and several performances that stood out in the generally competent cast: Eric Halfvarson as Leporello, Elena Clancy as Zerlina and Robert Keefe in the title role.
The most serious problems were in the role of Donna Anna, which requires a dramatic voice of heroic range and size even for a good hall and some kind of supernatural power in Constitution Hall ("Marian Anderson was wrong," said one opera-goer at intermission. "She should have been glad they wouldn't let her sing here.") Regina McConnell did not have quite what it took on this occasion, and her voice showed signs of strain through much of the evening.Otherwise the singing and the orchestra were good, though some of the singers took quite a bit of time before their voices were fully warmed up and adapted to the hall.