Passionless NightsBy Jonathan Richmond
Tsai Performance Center, Boston University
August 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 at 7:30 pm.
August 11 at 2:30 pm.
Conducted by Craig Smith
Directed by Drew Minter
After offering glittering summertime Mozart in the early years of its existence, Opera Aperta falls short of the company’s previous high standards with Don Giovanni, currently playing at Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center.
There is some wonderful singing, and if you are a Mozart connoisseur, it is worth going. Jodi Frisbie is breathtaking as Donna Anna, a character intent on revenge for the killing of her father by the lecherous Don Giovanni. Frisbie’s singing on opening night had a brilliant diamond focus and displayed the subtlety in coloration of a Mozartean of international stature. She is a rare and significant find for this young opera company.
Sarah Pelletier as Donna Elvira -- another woman wronged by Don Giovanni, but still lost in irrational love for him -- does a wonderful job too. Her rapturous singing is deeply involving. Pelletier also has a fine sense of drama in playing out the mirthful as well as sorrowful aspects of Elvira’s character. Krista River, the peasant girl Zerlina and yet another amorous attraction for the Don, sings sweetly and has a sexy presence on stage.
Tae-Gap Yang makes for a firm and scary Commendatore, Donna Anna’s murdered father whose statue comes to life to drag Don Giovanni to hell. His singing -- the best from any of the men -- is clear and powerful, hurling the sound of fate at the Don destined to receive his comeuppance.
David Kravitz, as Don Giovanni’s servant Leperello, delivers the part with great wit. Nikolas Nackley, alas, is simply not up to the role of Don Giovanni. Nackley lacks stage presence, always seeming to be an accessory to the action, rather than its pivot point. There is no power, no virility, no menace to this Don Giovanni, just flat, dull singing, coupled with a lack of basic stagecraft. Nackley is young and inexperienced -- why was he miscast in this demanding role?
The Don Ottavio (Donna Anna’s fiancee), Charles Blandy is, alas, even less accomplished. Ottavio has some deeply affecting, lyrical music to sing, but Blandy sounds strained and uncomfortable throughout his performance and at times is incapable of hitting the right the notes correctly, let alone expressing the passion of a humiliated man craving revenge and love.
Drew Minter supplies the English translation and directs this production, and the results are mixed. The translation shines in places, bringing the audience into contact with the action, but it draws undue attention to itself in others. At times its attempts at cleverness distract the audience from Mozart’s music, exactly what should be avoided in a new translation.
The staging has a lot of wit to it, and there is some sharp timing -- especially when the hysterical Elvira makes her entrances, ever at just the most embarrassing of moments. There are passages below amateur level, however, particularly the unconvincing fight sequences. While the two leading ladies do have commanding presences, Minter’s direction seems to do little to underline the darker undertones of this opera.
Craig Smith, conducting the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music, shows he understands Mozart. The music is played with much eloquence and subtlety, presenting details for enjoyment, if not establishing the fiery tensions demanded of a more demonic production of Don Giovanni.