Washington National Opera’s one-off performance of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” on Friday was intended as a showcase for the singers of its Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. But perhaps the biggest revelation of the night was not on stage but in the house: a good-sized and visibly younger-skewing audience for an art form usually starved for fresh blood.
One must not draw hasty generalizations from a single night. But the audience was probably drawn by the prospect of seeing a fully staged production of a classic at the Kennedy Center Opera House at lower than usual prices (the top ticket was $75). Newcomers could surely have done far worse than this “Don Giovanni,” credibly staged by WNO artistic director Francesca Zambello and sung with commitment, if varying degrees of seasoning, by the young cast.
In context, the bare-bones set and generic period costumes were perfectly respectable (the night was originally intended as a concert) and focused attention on the singers, all current members (and one alumna) of the company’s apprentice program. Zambello’s direction leaned heavily on the comedy, with Andrew Bogard giving the most fully realized performance of the night as the servant Leporello. Bogard’s crowd-pleasing antics may have verged on over-the-top, but his comic touches — not to mention his dark, firm bass baritone — were most welcome in a night otherwise a little short on dramatic voltage.
In the title role, baritone Michael Adams was more of a work in progress, relying on generic suavity rather than vocal command and characterization. Making stronger dramatic impressions were Kerriann Otaño’s forceful, feisty Donna Elvira and Ariana Wehr’s sweetly soubrettish Zerlina. The opera seria roles, Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, also featured promising voices: Raquel González’s richly toned, stylish soprano and Rexford Tester’s light, refined tenor. Rounding out the cast were Hunter Enoch’s stolid Masetto and Timothy J. Bruno’s stentorian Commendatore.
Conductor Michael Christie enforced brisk tempos and transparent textures but still overpowered some of the cast’s lighter voices. Coordination problems between the pit and stage probably reflected a lack of rehearsal time. Still, it was a promising night at the opera, in more ways than one.