Mozart's complex masterpiece "Don Giovanni" presents major challenges for even the biggest opera companies. The Baltimore Opera nevertheless mounted an impressive season opener Thursday evening at the Lyric Opera House, with bass James Morris in the title role.

Morris strikes the balance between comic and tragic aspects of the situation--"plot" would be too strong a word. His large, attractive stage presence explains much of Don Giovanni's appeal to women, even those who want to kill him. Sexually obsessed though he is, as translated by Morris he also exhibits a spirited prankishness: One can almost view him as less evil than recklessly oblivious to responsibility and consequences.

While soprano Lauren Flanigan does not possess a conventionally beautiful voice, she lent substance and dramatic intensity to the role of Donna Anna, a character often played as merely upset over what has happened to her.

The role of Donna Elvira was taken by soprano Ines Salazar. On this occasion her pitch was too often approximate, and could not be viewed simply as part of the characterization. As Zerlina, soprano Nicole Biondo and was charming in her two major arias, though her voice seemed small. Bass-baritone Julien Robbins, accomplished as always, was perhaps the most successful Masetto in recent memory. Tenor Roberto Sacca's elegantly sung arias made Don Ottavio particularly ardent and pleasing. The warm bass of Giovanni Furlanetto nicely suited Leporello, and bass Brian Jauhianen was a satisfying, full-throated Commendatore.

The production was appropriately dark much of the time. The spectacular ending, where a still-defiant Don Giovanni is engulfed by flames from the underworld, featured massive columns of fire. Humanoids with lighted candelabra oozed from the ground. It set a new standard for images from Hell.

The opera orchestra played to its usual high standard under conductor Christian Badea.

"Don Giovanni" continues through Oct. 31.