The Washington Post

Uneven but enjoyable ‘Don Giovanni’ at Repertory Opera Theater

Maybe the newly resurrected Repertory Opera Theater of Washington (it tanked in mid-season a year ago) can make a go of it. Its artistic staff is committed to bringing affordable opera to local audiences and, with little pretension, it’s bringing in some fine young singers. What it seems to lack is an audience. There were 40 or so people on hand Friday for the first of its four staged performances of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at Alexandria’s Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill. The show deserved better, and ROTW needs to get the word out.

A lot about the production was uneven — no surprise there — what with a young cast with mixed experience, an obviously tight budget and the constraints of a small space with only the most basic lighting and backstage accommodations. More imaginative stage direction and a more cleverly designed set could have helped a lot.

Nevertheless, there was a lot to enjoy in this production, particularly Michael Nansel’s finely sung and nuanced Giovanni, who came across as the consummate sexual predator — powerful, charming and amoral; Megan Coates’s fiery Donna Anna; and Laura Bass’s passionate Donna Elvira. Bass seemed to run out of steam in the second act, but she lit up the stage in the first and Coates only got better and better. Pianist Hyejin Kwon was a fine stand-in for the orchestra and doubled as recitative accompanist on an electronic harpsichord, while Matthew Salomon conducted with considerable skill and assurance.

The rest of the cast members were vocally well-suited to their roles (although Alex Rosen’s Commendatore could have used more heft), but, in one respect or another, they lacked the dramatic chops for their assignments. Connor Newlon has a limited theatrical tool kit and his Leporello, though well sung, just wasn’t funny. David Merrill as Don Octavio was a much more convincing consoler than protector. As Masetto, Gregory Hoyt — a good singer — seemed to be in an emotional straitjacket much of the time, and Rachel Sitomer’s take on Zerlina as a ditzy broad made the character seem lifted from another opera.

But local opera isn’t in competition with the Met, and if the ROTW can keep its head above water and attract a following, it can offer young talent valuable performance opportunities and the Alexandria suburbs a splendid local asset.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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