While the term “greatest” has lost much of its impact in the music world from overuse, Mozart’s tragicomic masterpiece, “Don Giovanni,” probably has come closest to garnering a critical and popular consensus as the greatest opera ever.
“Don Giovanni,” an unusual retelling of the adventures of the notorious womanizer known to most Americans as “Don Juan,” was a stunning achievement for Mozart, a composer better known and loved in his own time for his comic operas. Indeed, “Giovanni” is loaded with comic touches, and the title character’s sidekick, Leporello, gets plenty of good one-liners. However, Mozart, who was not above a bit of dissolution himself, clearly was uncomfortable with the Don’s amorality. So he prepared a warm welcome for Giovanni in hell, and the opera turns deadly serious in its fire-and-brimstone finale.
In the Washington National Opera’s new production of “Don Giovanni,” which opened Thursday evening at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, the singers were on target, and the WNO orchestra played superbly under the nimble baton of the company’s general director, Placido Domingo. Indeed, all the subtle undercurrents of Mozart’s resourceful and complex score were evident here, providing a brilliant counterpoint to the singers onstage.
Bass Edwin Schrott was superb as Don Giovanni, singing the role with malice and relish, with a heavy dash of comic irony thrown in to make his point. Tension fairly crackled when he was onstage. His interplay with his servant, Leporello, imaginatively sung by bass Ildar Abdrazakov, was memorable, and the gradual distance that grew between them was highly effective from a dramatic standpoint.
In an unusual bit of casting, Mr. Abdrazakov’s brother, fellow bass Askar, will rotate the role of Leporello with him during select performances when Mr. Schrott does not sing Giovanni. During these performances (Nov. 7, 10, 13, and 16), Ildar Abdrazakov will step into the role of the Don.
Though the Don’s innate depravity usually is the focal point of this opera, the current production, under the direction of John Pascoe, took great care to emphasize the roles of Giovanni’s holy trinity of female antagonists, imbuing this performance with an intriguing feminist spin. Soprano Erin Wall sang the role of Donna Anna with dignity and passion. Soprano Anja Kampe, a favorite here for her brilliant turn as Sieglinde in WNO’s most recent performances of “Die Walkure,” employs her superb instrument to bring a new dimension of complexity to Donna Elvira, whom she portrays as an almost Wagnerian avenging angel. Young soprano Amanda Squitieri’s charming portrayal of the inexperienced peasant girl Zerlina evokes the motherly instincts of the other two here. All three unite as one against the common enemy who refuses to regard women as individuals worthy of dignity and respect.
The remaining characters also turn in sterling performances, including tenor Shawn Mathey (Don Ottavio), baritone Trevor Scheunemann (Masetto) and bass Morris Robinson (Commendatore), whose chilling return as the Stone Guest is the highlight of a marvelously graphic finale.
This production’s scenery is a bit too dark, but the voices are luminous, the orchestra is playing at its best, and Mozart’s music, as always, is beyond compare.
WHAT: The Washington National Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”
WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House
WHEN: Monday and Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.; Thursday and Nov. 7, 13, 16 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 4 at 2 p.m.
TICKETS: $45 to $250
PHONE: 202/295-2400 or 800/USOPERA
WEB SITE: www.dc-opera.org