January 15, 2007

Operatic consequences

Don Giovanni going down.jpg
Morgan Smith goes down as Don Giovanni. Seattle Opera photo by Rozarii Lynch.

Here's a 220-year-old opera whose anti-hero exhibits reckless behavior and cynical indifference to real-world consequences. (Sound like the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?) Yet the "moral" that's tacked on to Don Giovanni, that he who lives a wicked life dies a wicked death, is a sham; it's delivered by the opera's six suvivors as a tacked-on ending, in the theatrical equivalent of a wink-wink, with house lights up.

Yes, the Don goes to hell (convincingly staged, by the way, with trap door, "flames," smoke, screams), but his nominal victims deserve no better. Donna Anna hypocritically demands revenge for her father's death, conveniently forgetting that it was her own indiscretion with Giovanni that precipitated the Commendatore's ill-fated defense of her virtue. "Whatever you say, dear," is the in-denial response from her fiancé, Don Ottavio. The peasant-girl Zerlina deliberately cavorts with Giovanni to provoke Masetto's ire and ensure herself of punishment. The "wronged" Donna Elvira is both enthralled and repelled by her attraction to Giovanni; after he's gone she dreamily wraps herself in his cape. And Leperello, Giovanni's Fox News enabler, literally feeds off his amorality. There's no hint of judgment about their fates.

Seattle Opera's "gold" cast featured Mariusz Kwiecin as a suave and courtly Giovanni, but I found the smirky, smarmy edge of the "silver" star, Morgan Smith, more credible. The silver Anna, too, struck me as more vehemently angry, more visibly deranged. Used to be, the silvers sang in English; with supratitles, that's no longer necessary, and the current production's "second" cast is as strong as the first.

As an opera, Don Giovanni is both tapestry and mystery, interweaving the traditional story of the libertine (over 2,000 conquests!) who, by convention, must be punished, with the 18th Century's spirit of political Enlightenment (the rousing Act I "long live liberty!" finale). As art, Mozart's collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte transcends mere entertainment; it asks fundamental questions about good and evil, sex and personal responsibility. Seattle Opera's updated, imaginatively staged production (by the stalwart team of Robert Dahlstrom and Chris Alexander), conducted by Andreas Mitisek (who led Cosi fan tutte here last year) enhances those mysteries with sublimely sung music. Even in today's nonjudgmental environment, that's a virtue.

Seattle Opera presents Don Giovanni through Jan. 27. Tickets online or call 206-389-7676

Posted by Ronald Holden at January 15, 2007 11:16 AM

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