The Washington Opera took a look at the future, with a special free performance of "Don Giovanni" Saturday in Constitution Hall. And the future looked very bright. The performance had a quality nearly equal to (and in some places better than) the mainstage performances of this production.
It was intended to promote the careers of young singers, with members of the company's young artists program replacing the regular cast in all the singing roles except the Commendatore. But it was also intended to encourage future subscribers, with an invited audience made up largely of college students.
On both accounts, the experiment was a smashing success, and it should be repeated in future seasons.
The singers were all excellent vocally, though a few of them could use a bit more polishing as actors. And the young audience reacted ideally to the young cast. It was a bit more enthusiastic than the average subscription audience, laughing loudly at all the right places and shouting "bravo" when a "bravo" was deserved.
Most of the praise went to singers in two of the opera's most problematic roles, soprano Barbara Quintiliani as Donna Anna and tenor Matthew Ryan Wolff as Ottavio -- both artists of great potential. Quintiliani, whose acting is as impressive as her voice, managed to convey the intense emotions, ambivalence and fiery determination of her role without ever making Anna look (as sometimes happens) like a nag. Wolff took one of opera's toughest and most rewarding assignments (Ottavio can easily come on as a wimp but has the two greatest light-tenor arias of all time), and projected a strong, virile character with an excellent voice, a fine sense of dramatic nuance and a flair for legato singing.
Valeriano Lanchas was a comically scared and exasperated Leporello; Eugenia Garza a noble, restrained Elvira -- the very image of a Spanish noblewoman; Hoo-Ryoung Hwang was an agile-voiced, vulnerable and sympathetic Zerlina; and Lee Poulis, as a slightly awkward peasant Mazetto, sang better than he acted.
Baritone Hung Yun is vocally a near-perfect Don Giovanni (give or take moments of slight strain in the Serenade) and is working his way smoothly into the dramatic nuances of the role. His success, and that of the entire performance, was a tribute to the value of the young artists program.