Monday, July 17, 2006

SSP Preview Don Giovanni

Exploring his bad side Famous Mozart opera gives young baritone delightful challenge

Joanne Paulson, The StarPhoenix Published: Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Matthew Leigh and Ileana Montalbetti star in Saskatoon Opera's production of Don Giovanni Photograph by : Richard Marjan, The StarPhoenix

Don Giovanni is a very, very bad boy.
He seduces women, kills men, lies through his teeth and generally behaves like an arrogant boor.He is also a lot of fun to play -- certainly for Matthew Leigh, who has taken on the title role for this year's Saskatoon Opera production.

"I actually find Don Giovanni an easy character to understand," said Leigh (pronounced Lay) in a recent interview."He's simple, in a way. There are people who think he's a very complex character, but I disagree with that.He's very selfish, very spoiled, and I know many people who are like that; there's a side of me that's like that."Like many men, Leigh also admits he understands Giovanni's desire to chase women."It's fun to play. To play the badass is fun for me."

Actually, everyone is having fun rehearsing Mozart's Don Giovanni: almost all the cast members, most of them young and debuting their roles, have either studied or sung together, notes Ileana Montalbetti."We could just jump into the first rehearsal and feel comfortable," said Montalbetti, who plays Donna Anna, one of Giovanni's seductees, and the female lead."I love singing it; it feels so fantastic to do," she said, noting the role is intense from the very beginning."In the first 10 minutes her character has gone through the spectrum of emotion."

She and Leigh have performed together at the University of Toronto, where Montalbetti has completed her first year in the opera program, and Leigh just graduated with a master's degree in voice performance.

Leigh, who sings Giovanni for the first time, says his role is very vocally demanding; he will have to see if it is also physically so. He says he was driven to prepare thoroughly during the rehearsal process, to ensure enough stamina for the entire show."He has a huge scene at the end that has to sound good, or it's such a let down."Leigh has previously sung the Count in the Marriage of Figaro, Guglielmo in Cosi Fan Tutte, and Herr Reich in the Merry Wives of Windsor. Montalbetti played the Countess in the same production of Figaro, and is slated to play Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus this fall. She also took first place in the 2005 National Music Festival.

When not in Saskatoon, Leigh is studying German in Munich this summer, and will join the ensemble of the Zurich Opera in the fall."It's a good kickstart to your career," said Leigh.
At 29, Leigh is considered young for a baritone entering his career. At 23, Montalbetti is the youngest student in the U of T opera program, and the youngest in the Don Giovanni cast.
Yet both talked about feeling the "click" -- when a singer knows how to use the voice technically, and is getting the right sound out of it. For Leigh, it happened about a year and a half ago; for Montalbetti, things "began clicking this year," she said. Hers is a bright soprano voice with a big extension at the top end; some have said she could one day sing Wagner, whose works require mature sopranos. Meanwhile, she's working on her repertoire and feeling comfortable as Mozart's Donna Anna."I feel like I have it well in hand," she said.

Other members of the main cast are Stephen Hegedus as Leporello, Eve Rachel McLeod as Donna Elvira, Michael Harris as Don Ottavio, Lisa di Maria as Zerlina, Brian Wehrle as Masetto, and Saskatoon's Garry Gable in the famous Commendatore role. Barbara Montalbetti is artistic director, and Tadeusz Biernacki conducts the orchestra and chorus.
Don Giovanni was chosen this year in celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday.

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Saskatoon Opera
July 15, 17, 19, 21, 7:30 p.m.
Preview Thursday
St. Joseph High School Theatre

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006