November 9, 2009

Snazzy Giovanni Arrives at City Opera
Review by Zinta Lundborg

Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- A lively new production of Mozart's “Don Giovanni” opened at the New York City Opera yesterday afternoon starring Daniel Okulitch as the legendary sex maniac.

Staged by Christopher Alden, the show begins in a bare chapel with a white neon crucifix. Clad in formal suits, ties, and hats from the early part of the 20th century, villagers are ranged in a double row of chairs. An elegant masked Don Giovanni sits apart. We are most definitely not in 17th-century Seville.

There's nothing surprising about any of this of course. Don Giovanni is updated all the time. Only a radical nut would set the story of the Spanish lothario in the time Mozart envisioned.

But Alden's concept brings out the violence, sex, alienation and fear of dying that seethe at the heart of the story and which do not need any particular style of costume.

The simple set features a green and gray checkerboard floor, five electric fixtures and not much else, and strikes me as ideal for an impecunious company. It can't have cost much, but it looks smart, not cheap.

Alden gets our attention immediately. Donna Anna is quickly seduced and winds up in full sexual flight on the floor with Giovanni, and it's shocking when in a single motion he fatally bashes her father's head against the wall, leaving bright bloody stains that haunt the rest of the action.

Chaos Rules

In Act II the confined location becomes more of a hindrance and the stage business grows increasingly chaotic and confusing. Why is Donna Elvira at a formal wake dressed in Frederick's of Hollywood? Is the dead Commendatore visible or invisible? And the Don's ultimate end provokes more mirth than horror.

Above all, the cast was outstanding, young, attractive and in splendid voice. Okulitch was a menacingly sexy Don, with Jason Hardy a nimble, charming Leporello, who got a big hand when he balanced a chair on his chin.

All the women soared through their demanding roles, especially Stefania Dovhan as a vocally sure Donna Anna. Keri Alkema was a sympathetic Elvira and Joelle Harvey a sweet yet seductive Zerlina.

Okulitch and Hardy spent a good part of the second act nearly naked -- another cost saving measure? There are not many productions where this is a welcome option.

Conductor Gary Thor Wedow provided support without overpowering any of the singers.

Scattered booing greeted the production team, a tradition that seems to be gaining ground in New York, but energetic cheering far outweighed any negative votes.