- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

The In Series' relocation of "Don Giovanni" to modern, suburban New York offers a refreshing departure from the tried and true. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart paints a musical picture of the legendary womanizer known to Americans as Don Juan in "Don Giovanni," one of the most durable operas in the repertoire. The Don seduces ladies by the thousands, recording name, rank and serial number in his ever-growing black book. In the composer's didactic conclusion, the evil and occasionally murderous Don finally takes things a bit too far and is transported directly to hell by the ghost of the man he killed in Act I.
The In Series re-imagines Mozart's music and Lorenzo Da Ponte's original libretto as "The Sopranos" family and gives it the title "Don Giovanni (of Long Island)." Mozart's music, efficiently performed here by a string quartet, piano, and electric harpsichord and organ, remains largely intact. Many of the recitatives are cut or turned Mozart's music, efficiently performed here by a string quartet, piano, and electric harpsichord and organ, remains largely intact. Many of the recitatives are cut or turned into spoken dialogue, shortening the work's running time to about 21/2 hours. Meanwhile, Da Ponte's book gets a complete face-lift, with his eminently singable Italian translated into surprisingly singer-friendly, if occasionally crude, Mafioso-style English by LB Hamilton.
Generally, a successful dramatic treatment of Mozart's greatest opera lies in establishing a sense of the Don's gradual descent from mirth to gravity. "Don Giovanni (of Long Island)" remains broadly comic, undercutting even Act I's opening murder. The tone is smart-alecky throughout, and, oddly, probably more faithful to the character of the Don than Mozart's opera itself, in which divine retribution plays a crucial role in restoring morality to the world. In this story, there is no morality.
Director Joe Banno's creative update on the opera envisions "Don Giovanni" as a tableaux of musical beds. Indeed, that's exactly what we get on Clark Street's half-round stage in a set designed by David C. Ghatan five large beds, outfitted in an L.L. Bean style (no white linens, please), upon which and in which Giovanni has his fun. A shockingly minimalist concept, to be sure, but it works. Beds, after all, are usually where Don Giovanni's adventures wind up.
The music? The In Series, despite its continuing financial difficulties, has come up with a youthful cast of astonishing quality.
In the title role of Giovanni Fortuna, baritone Robert McDonald clad in a chic Italianate suit and substituting a Palm Pilot and cell phone for the Don's outdated black book pairs off his thuggish good looks with an excellent sense of comic timing. His crisp baritone carries well in the theater's somewhat hard space and conveys a strong sense of authority and control. He is the ultimate sexual predator.
Tenor Bryce Westervelt, although a last-minute addition to the cast, performs splendidly as the faithful Ottavio d'Amico, a character who, unlike Giovanni, never quite gets the girl. His delicately nuanced lyric voice and superb diction are perfect for the role, which contains the sweetest and most intricate arias in the opera.
Leather-jacketed baritone Terry N. Eberhardt, as Giovanni's comical sidekick and valet Leporello Jackson, adds a broadly comic, hip-hop touch to one of Mozart's most best-loved characters. Mr. Eberhardt sparkles in his solo work, particularly in the patter-songs, and adds grounding and heft to the larger ensemble pieces.
Baritone Trevor Scheuneman plays his small role of auto mechanic Masetto Matti with bumbling effectiveness. Masetto is bewildered by Giovanni's maneuverings but ultimately motivated to protect his girl. Mr. Scheuneman has a nice, liquid voice, and it's a shame this opera doesn't give him more of an opportunity to step out.
Jed Collard doesn't get a lot to do in the small but important role of John Vendetti, the old Don of the crime clan who later returns as a ghost. But, particularly in the opera's final stanza, what he accomplishes as the ghost (a walking statue in the original) is dramatically important to the work. Mr. Collard projects a fine, deep-throated sense of menace in this penultimate scene.
But the women don't take a back seat to the men in this production. You can readily see why Don Giovanni pursues them all. They look absolutely smashing in designer Timm Burrow's costuming, and they have dazzling voices to match.
Soprano and Britney Spears look-alike Tausha Torrez, as Masetto's bride, portrays a somewhat ditsy newlywed conflicted between what she should do and what she had better do. She has a light, bell-like lyric voice that's always clear and accurate, and also projects a fine comic stage presence.
As the much-put-upon Anna Maria Vendetti, soprano Rebecca Ocampo is absolutely splendid. Miss Ocampo imbues her character with passion, and she shows an obvious love for Mozart's vocal lines. She traverses them with assurance and aplomb. It would be wonderful to hear her in a concert of art songs, but Mozart gives her plenty to do here.
Mezzo-soprano Grace Gori is touching and effective as Giovanni's regularly scorned wife, Elvira Fortuna. Hers is perhaps designed as the most downcast role in the opera, and Miss Gori creates great sympathy for her character. Her powerful voice, however, strong in the lower register, seemed to strain somewhat at the higher notes on opening night last weekend, perhaps a casualty of the dismal weather outside.
While Mozart's grandest opera is best heard with a full orchestra, his classical style is well-suited to reduced instrumentation. It works efficiently in this intimate production under Music Director and pianist Victoria Gau. In fact, Miss Gau's ensemble, along with the fine cast, works together so seamlessly that audiences never will miss the grand opera "Giovanni" with all the expensive trimmings.
All in all, this is a fine night at the opera aggressively mounted by a quirky local company that seems at last to be on the comeback trail.
WHAT: "Don Giovanni (of Long Island)"
WHERE: The Clark Street Playhouse, 601 S. Clark St., Arlington
WHEN: 3 p.m. today, 4 p.m. Feb. 9 and 16 and Special Happy 246th Birthday Mozart performance and reception at 6 p.m. tomorrow
TICKETS: $28 to $45 general admission and $17 to $25 students andseniors
PHONE: 202/295-2400

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