Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 22, 2022

REVIEW: Berkshire Opera Festival, “Don Giovanni"

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA
Through August 26, 2022
by Michael J. Moran

While Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” is considered among the world’s greatest operas, its title
character may be the world’s greatest sexual predator. But Jonathan Loy’s reimagining makes this tragic 18th-century morality tale compelling to modern audiences through character and comedy.

Set in Seville and drawing on the legendary Spanish cad Don Juan, Lorenzo da Ponte’s Italian libretto features: dissolute nobleman Don Giovanni (bass-baritone Andre Courville); his groveling servant Leporello (bass Christian Zaremba); Donna Anna (soprano Laura Wilde), betrothed to Don Ottavio (tenor Joshua Blue); her father, the Commendatore (bass-baritone John Cheek); Donna Elvira (mezzo-soprano Megan Moore), abandoned by Giovanni; and engaged peasants Zerlina (soprano Natalia Santaliz) and Masetto (baritone Bryan James Myer). 

Even before the opening scene, when a masked Giovanni kills the Commendatore while escaping after assaulting Donna Anna, Loy introduces a male dancer (Edoardo Torresin) during the overture portraying Giovanni’s id, unchecked by superego, as the Don seduces another victim (dancer Katie Harding). Torresin reappears periodically in later scenes, while Giovanni self-medicates with drugs and alcohol. His inability to change is thus heightened, setting him apart from other characters and foreshadowing his fate.

Each member of this diverse ensemble cast is outstanding. A master of physical comedy, Zaremba’s Leporello sings his “Catalogue” aria, listing Giovanni’s thousands of amorous conquests to a horrified Donna Elvira, with nimble glee. Wilde invests Donna Anna with a mix of anguish over her father’s murder and tender love for Don Ottavio, whose longing for his beloved is palpable in Blue’s sensitive depiction. Moore brings a moving sense of injured dignity to Donna Elvira, while Santaliz and Myer make an attractively volatile couple. 

In a sensational role and BOF debut as Giovanni, Courville finds nuance in the Don’s single-mindedness, delivering both a melting “La ci darem lo mano” (“We’ll hold hands”) proposal aria to Zerlina and a defiant refusal of the summons by ageless Cheek’s ghostly Commendatore in “A cenar teco” (“You are invited”) to repent or face a fiery death.  

BOF Artistic Director and co-founder (with Loy) Brian Garman leads the chorus and 30-member orchestra in a taut rendition of Mozart’s dramatic score, while also playing harpsichord continuo. Cori Ellison’s projected English translations are often amusingly colloquial, and Stephen Dobay’s resourceful scenic design seamlessly repurposes the same stark set. Alex Jainchill’s dark lighting design gives the orange lights at Giovanni’s death a blazing effect. Stephen Agisilaou’s deft choreography ranges from staid for the nobility to sensual for the dancers, especially Torresin. 

This powerfully daring production is a must-see for area opera fans.