Ripped from the headlines. . . .
A man who sees himself as God's gift to women, licentious and lascivious, using physical force when more traditional tactics of seduction don't work. A man who's never been punished--even rebuked--for his attitude and actions toward women. A man who keeps track of his conquests as if he were a baseball statistician, including more than a thousand in Spain.
Today's news, right?
Wrong. "Don Giovanni," the classic Mozart opera, written in 1787 and, though it's hard to believe, a standard of the Grand Opera repertory ever since. It opened the 2011 season of the Opera Theatre of St. Louis last night at the Loretto-Hilton Theatre and will have eight more performances during the season. And this is not your father's "Don Giovanni," nor even that of your older brother.
A slightly revised libretto by James Robinson and Michael Shell, who also co-directed the production, gives the opera a dark, sexual, often-bitter overtone, with dancers who might have come from the cast of "Cabaret," and an attitude that looks at sexual attitudes with 21st-century cynicism. Whether it's the 21st century or the 18th, however, there are a number of sickening comparisons.
Some may think it's wrong to take liberties with Mozart, but think of the liberties taken with Shakespeare. Mozart is a grown-up, and he might think the update is a good idea.
The OTSL production, offering debuts to a number of excellent singers, is a strong one. In an indefinite, unspecified time period, with costumes that cover the spectrum and include some particularly unflattering ones for the male chorus, it revels in Christopher Akerlind's brilliant lighting design. Akerlind, an OTSL mainstay for 20 years, rarely has been more simple and more dramatic at the same time.
Levi Hernandez, one of the rookies, was a gliorious standout as Leporello, the servant to Don Giovanni. As both a singer and an actor, the baritone was spot-on, and his sidekick characterization, part Gabby Hayes and part Sancho Panza, was entertaining from start to finish. Baritone Elliot Madore was a fine Don Juan (or Don Giovanni), with a winning smile and a dashing attitude (both modifiers also fit his voice), and he and Hernandez worked very well together.
David Portillo, another newcomer, showed a beautifully balanced tenor, and Bradley Smoak charmed as a not-quite-prepared bridegroom. Portillo and Smoak were successfully paired with Maria Kanyova and Kathryn Leemhuis, respectively. Another debut was made by the beautiful Kishani Jayasinghem, from Sri Lanka, who was a winner as Donna Elvira, spurned by our non-hero. And another newcomer, bass Andrew Gangestad from South Korea, scored as the Commandatore, was terrific in life and as a ghost. Elizabeth Coker Giron, David Gonsier, Julie Opiel and Louis A. Williams Jr., were splendid dancers.
Conductor Jane Glover helped make the members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra sound up to their usual style, and Bruno Schwengl designed the simple, effective set and the royal blue curtain that showed us Mozart's autograph. The opera will be repeated on Wednesday, and "The Daughter of the Regiment" opens next Saturday.
Don Giovanni, a production of Opera Theatre of St. Louis, opened the 2011 season and will have eight more performances through June 25