William Hudson conducted a careful, almost totally undistinguished performance of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" last night in the University of Maryland's Tawes Theatre. The event is worth noting because it marked the first appearance of Gordon Hawkins in the title role. Hawkins is a young Washington baritone who may reasonably be expected to develop into one of the notable Don Giovannis of the 1990s. His mastery of the role is not yet complete, but he shows great promise.
As Leporello, baritone Wayne Jones had a voice that was serviceable rather than opulent and he used it with keen intelligence and significant acting skill. He and Hawkins made Ruth and Thomas Martin's English translation an effective vehicle for theatrical communication. He paid scrupulous attention to word values and performed his comic stage business (notably in a hilarious interpretation of the "Catalogue" aria) with a skill that can use more polishing but is already effective.
Patricia Campbell as Zerlina had a small voice but used it with skill and comic flair. If she becomes a professional singer, her destination might be Broadway rather than the Met.
The chief reason for staging and attending student productions such as this is the chance of hearing a few voices that show promise. From this viewpoint, the production was a success, though it often left a lot to be desired, musically and theatrically. Martin Mangold's stage direction seemed uneven -- understandable, perhaps, in a production where five of the eight solo roles will be filled by a second set of singers in tonight's performance.
Hawkins stood out. He has stage presence and fits well into the role, though his interpretation can use more polishing in a myriad of small details. His voice is excellent and generally well used, though his performance of the Serenade showed a need for further work: immersion in the music's style; attention to the production of an unbroken legato line, and refinement and focusing of tone in his upper register. His vocal resources and the level of achievement he has already reached are firm indications that such work will be well worth the effort.