Monday, July 17, 2006

Don Giovanni SSP Review

Opera company delivers impressive performance

Shannon Boklaschuk, The StarPhoenix Published: Monday, July 17, 2006

Drama, romance, comedy -- Don Giovanni has got it all.

On Saturday night, Mozart's renowned opera was brilliantly brought to life by Saskatoon Opera, with each vocalist delivering a most impressive performance. The show, which clocked in at around three hours, drew heart-felt applause and a standing ovation from the crowd -- and the praise was certainly well-deserved.

The production offered first-rate entertainment, and the opera company should be proud of the high standard it has achieved. It's wonderful Saskatonians can enjoy such high-quality musicianship in their own backyard, and artistic director Barbara Montalbetti deserves kudos for her work.

If you're not familiar with Don Giovanni, Mozart's opera is fast-paced and dramatic. It kicks off with a scene in which Don Giovanni (played by Matthew Leigh) attacks Donna Anna (Ileana Montalbetti), who manages to free herself. However, a fight ensues between Don Giovanni and her father, the Commendatore (played by Garry Gable), which culminates in the Commendatore's death.
Don Giovanni and her father, the Commendatore (played by Garry Gable), which culminates in the Commendatore's death.

Gable, a baritone, delivers a heart-wrenching performance as his character dies, and soprano Ileana Montalbetti does a great job of showcasing her character's anguish. Dressed in a white satin gown with her hair in curls, Montalbetti cries "My dear father," and it sends chills up the spine.

The Commendatore's murder is central to the rest of the opera, and the drama unfolds because of the crime. Donna Anna and her lover, Don Ottavio (played by Michael Harris), quickly set out to nab the villain, while the arrogant, self-absorbed Don Giovanni complicates the lives of other characters. There is an excellent scene in which Donna Anna and Don Ottavio sing about avenging the Commendatore's death, and Harris and Montalbetti sound gorgeous.

Don Giovanni, to be frank, is a horrible cad. He murders and seduces without conscience, and is most proud of his many "conquests." His servant, Leporello (played by Stephen Hegedus), describes him as a "woman-chaser," and that's an understatement. Don Giovanni keeps a black book listing his female "conquests," and the number in Spain alone totals a whopping 1,003.

There's no doubt Don Giovanni is misogynistic, and his horrible, degrading treatment of women can be difficult to watch. He physically attacks Donna Anna and emotionally tortures the feisty Donna Elvira (played by Eve Rachel McLeod), even going as far as slapping her across the face.Don Giovanni is unabashedly sexist; however, justice is served in the end. If there is a message to the opera, it's that bad deeds will not go unpunished -- and Don Giovanni learns that all too well.

Leigh, who has previously sung the Count in the Marriage of Figaro, Guglielmo in Cosi Fan Tutte and Herr Reich in the Merry Wives of Windsor, is well cast in the title role. Although the opera is long, he still gives a rousing performance at the end of the production when Don Giovanni meets his fate. Soprano Ileana Montalbetti also shines as one of Don Giovanni's seductees, with her bright, clear, strong voice easily bending at her will. At age 23, it's easy to see Montalbetti has a long, successful career ahead of her, and opera fans will become increasingly familiar with her name as the years go on.

Hegedus, a bass, and McLeod, a soprano, also stand out. Both performers are great actors as well as vocalists, and I hope to see them in future productions.
Saturday's performance of Don Giovanni appeared to be set in the 1940s or '50s, with the characters wearing suits, skirts and dresses reminiscent of a bygone era. The set, although not elaborate, was also attractive, with six stone sculptures or pillars sitting side by side on the darkened stage.

And, of course, one cannot forget the music. The orchestra did a fabulous job of playing Mozart's masterpiece, and the music was perfectly timed to the action on stage.
All in all, watching Don Giovanni was a great way to spend an evening. The opera runs today, Wednesday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Joseph High School Theatre.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006