If you knew before seeing “Don Giovanni” (Il dissouto punita, ossia il Don Giovanni), the outstanding production now at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, translates as “The Rake Punished, namely Don Giovanni (also The Libertine Punished), you would have some idea that the opera was not about a lover but about a powerful man who felt entitled to take sexual liberties.
However, directed by Robert Falls, artistic director at Goodman Theatre, the Lyric production skillfully makes the comic moments funnier, the sexual attempts more offensive, the violence more dramatic and the punishment more tumultuous.
Aside from the ending (no alert here) what particularly makes this production worth the three hour, 20 minute sitting time, is the cast. All are excellent actors and superb vocalists.
American soprano Rachel Willis-Sorensen, making her lyric debut as Donna Anna whom Giovanni attempts to rape, has an amazing, fully-rounded, mature voice. I sincerely hope she will be back at the Lyric soon.
American soprano Amanada Majeski, a Ryan Opera Center alum, carries the main, stop-this-man theme throughout the opera, with sophisticated aplomb as the abandoned Donna Elvira.
Chinese soprano Ying Fang, making her Lyric debut, is delightfully innocent and flirty as Zelina.
The male leads are just as good. On November dates, Lyric veteran, American baritone Lucas Meahem, convincingly portrays Giovanni as the not-at-all repentant aristocrat with an insatiable sexual appetite. American bass-baritone Ryan McKinny will portray the title role Dec. 3-8 instead of Italian baritone Davide Luciano who is recovering from an injury.
British bass Matthew Rose is the perfect, comic sidekick, Leporello,who details Giovanni’s hundred of conquests in a book, then adds, “there go two more” as two females come to Giovanni’s ball.
Making their Lyric debuts are the talented American tenor Ben Bliss as Anna’s intended, Don Ottavio, American bass-baritone Brandon Cedel as Zelina’s fiancé, Masetto, and Finnish bass Mika Kares as Anna’s father, the Commendatore who gets his revenge when he returns to Giovanni’s palace as a statue.
Even though Mozart composed several beloved operas, “Don Giovanni” which premiered in Prague in 1787, is generally hailed as not only his best, but also is considered among the world’s finest operas.
Conducted by James Gffigan who did “Cosi fan tutte at the Lyric in the 2017-18 season, Mozart’s exquisite music starts with the overture’s familiar D minor opening passages. Then moves from one memorable duet and aria to another in Lorenzo Da Ponte’s, expressive libretto.
There is Anna’s duet with Ottavio, “Ah, vendicar, se il puoi, giura quel sangue ognor!” ( “Ah, swear to avenge that blood if you can!”) sung after Giovanni murders her father. The duet shows off the depth of Willis-Sorensen’s voice.
And there is Rose’s chance to shine as Leporello when he humorously explains to Elvira that Giovanni is not worth her anxiety in the famous catalogue aria, “Madamina, il catalogo é questo” (My dear lady, this is the catalogue) where he shows the book listing Giovanni’s conquests of woman from different countries, of different ages and hair color.
But my favorite duet, and arguably the opera’s best known one, is the gorgeous “La ci darem la mano” (There we will entwine our hands) between Giovanni and Zerlina.
Bliss gets his chance to show-off his vocal chords in Act I in “Dalla sua pace la mia dipende” (“On her peace my peace depends”) and in Act II when he is convinced that Giovanni is the man who killed his beloved’s father “Il mio tesoro” (My treasure).
Meahem has his fun moment in Act I’s Champagne aria when he tells Leporello to get Zerlina’s peasant wedding friends drunk in “Fin ch’han dal vino calda la testa” (“Till they are tipsy”).
The staging is fine for this opera which Falls has moved to a small Spanish village in the 1920’s but I’m not fond of the build-out of the overly-layered shrubbery that supposedly covers a stairway and provides a hiding place for Zerlina who is trying to avoid Giovanni’s clutching hands.
That is a mere trifle in this four star production.
DETAILS: “Don Giovanni” is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, on elect dates through Dec. 8, 2019. Running time: 3 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera.
For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago