The IU Opera Theatre opens their "Opera with a Vengeance" season with Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte’s "Don Giovanni. The opera’s serious moments are about seduction, murder and revenge. The Don fails in what may have been a seduction or an early form of date rape. He kills the lady’s father in a duel over her honor. Then the Don is hunted down by a whole quartet of revengers. There’s the wronged lady, her prospective groom, a second lady who’s been loved and left, and even the graveyard statue of the dead father. All this sounds pretty grim, but "Don Giovanni" is an opera that respects its comedy as much as its tragedy. There’s a lot rough comedy with the Don’s quarrelsome servant, a pert peasant girl and a foolish jealous husband.
Rachel Holland was regal as Donna Anna, the lady who first fought off the Don and then pursued him. Jacob Sentgeorge played Don Octavio, her ever-loyal-fiancee and partner in the chase. Michelle Auslander sang the part of Donna Elvira, the most persistent in the chase after the Don. Mozart has given both of his Donnas ample places to really show off some vocal fireworks and each did it in an exciting fashion.
Robert Samels played Don Giovanni’s difficult servant Leporello with good singing and a nice feel for the character as both a radically uppity underling and a figure of comedy. After preying on two members of the upper class. The Don sets his sights lower and preys on the pert peasant girl Zerlina sung by Erin Kelley. That she’s about to be married to Masetto, Jonathan Stinson, doesn’t phase the Don Giovanni a bit. Kelley sung well and balanced the faithful and the adventurous sides of her character. At a pivotal point the serious and the comic characters of "Don Giovanni" come together at a ball. Mozart wrote music for three stage bands, playing: a minuet, a contredanse and a Landler all at the same time. It’s a nice piece of musical drama and the IU production brought it off neatly.
Timothy Kuhn was Don Giovanni. He acted well and used a wide variety of dramatic and intimate vocal approaches to the part. The orchestra was very cooperative when Kuhn used quieter parts of his voice. Throughout the opera, the recitatives were accompanied by a piano. Often this is played on a harpsichord and it imitates a mandolin for one of the Don’s love songs. IU had a real mandolin played from the pit by Bret Hoag.
Guest conductor Mark Gibson led the performance. In the overture, the orchestra sounded a little under prepared. The sound was thin, attacks weren’t solid and neither the dramatic sweep nor the lush sweetness of the music were fully realized. However as the performance went on, things came together nicely. At the curtain, in a welcome gesture, the Opera Theatre raised the pit enough for the audience to both see and solidly applaud the orchestra
In the climactic scene of "Don Giovanni" the statue of Donna Anna’s murdered father appears to drag the Don down to hell. Jonathan Huckle had the vocal heft and presence that the key part demands. Perhaps Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte were a little nervous about leaving the ending with the still audaciously defiant Don’s death. Maybe Mozart simply had more music in his mind. At any rate, following the dramatic end, he wrote a piece for everyone left moralizing the tale. It can seem like a fifth wheel, but the IU production directed by Vincent Liotta, smoothly moved to it with a bit of interjected dialogue.