By Wynne Delacoma/For Sun-Times Media
If you want a celebration with unsettling sizzle, consider inviting opera’s ultimate party animal, Don Giovanni. Lyric Opera of Chicago deployed Mozart’s irrepressible reprobate to open its 60th anniversary season Saturday night, and the new production, directed by the Goodman Theatre’s Robert Falls, was both musically sublime and dramatically disturbing.
Lyric has reason to celebrate this season, and “Don Giovanni” holds a special place in the company’s history. In 1954 a new venture organized by three young opera enthusiasts tested the waters with two performances of “Don Giovanni” in February at the Civic Opera House. Audiences and critics were impressed, and the company returned in November with a full-fledged season. Officially named Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1956, the company has been in residence at the Civic Opera House ever since.
Saturday’s performance of “Don Giovanni,” conducted with a lithe but probing touch by Lyric’s Music Director Sir Andrew Davis, attested to Lyric’s lifelong ambitions and achievements. Falls is a distinguished, Tony Award-winning director, and at its best his staging, which updates the action to pre-Franco Spain of the 1920s, reflects the conflicted emotions of Mozart’s characters. Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien is one of the world’s best Don Giovannis, a trim, handsome bundle of raging testosterone. Puerto Rican-born soprano Ana Maria Martinez was fully his vocal and dramatic equal as Donna Elvira, a seemingly liberated, motorcycle-riding lady who can’t decide whether she loves or loathes the fickle Don.[one_third]
‘DON GIOVANNI’ RECOMMENDED When: Through Oct. 29 Where: Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Tickets: $34-$299 Info: (312) 827-5600; lyricopera.org[/one_third] Set designer Walt Spangler has placed the action in an austerely elegant courtyard dominated by a grey stone façade and tall, ornate Beaux Arts doorway. The peasants cavorted in a lush garden whose path, hidden among rows of sloping, undulating hedges, climbed to the sky. With touches like newsboy caps and suspenders for the male servants, costume designer Ana Kuzmanic captured the feel of working-class, 1930s Spain. But in the ball scene, her lavishly stylized, brocade and velvet costumes for Donna Elvira, Donna Anna (Marina Rebeka) and Don Ottavio (Antonio Poli) clearly delineated the chasm between the aristocrats and the common folk, an important point for Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. Dancing solemnly, the three moved like alien beings among the baffled peasants. Motivations are often murky in Don Giovanni, however, and Falls and his cast haven’t fully worked out the tangles. In Act I Martinez’s Donna Elvira was more a raging harridan than a woman sincerely torn between love and hate. Rebeka brought a ringing, agile soprano to Donna Anna, but we wondered whether her initial encounter with the Don was consensual or forced. As Don Giovanni’s put-upon servant, Kyle Ketelsen’s Leporello lacked emotional shading. There was much to admire, however. Wanton sex is an undeniable undercurrent in Don Giovanni, and Falls doesn’t hesitate to put it front and center. Poli’s ardent, tender arias shaped Don Ottavio, often a bland cipher, into the opera’s sole voice of reason. With her creamy soprano, Andriana Chuchman was a sexy Zerlina, and bass-baritone Michael Sumuel deftly captured Masetto’s mix of jealous male and vulnerable lover. As Giovanni’s ghostly terminator, Andrea Silvestrelli’s Commendatore was coldly frightening, and Giovanni’s descent into hell was stunningly scary. All in all, a fine launch to Lyric’s next decade.