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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Opera Atelier Launches New Season With Sumptuous Don Giovanni Revival

By Joseph So on November 1, 2019

A terrific cast and a production that finds Opera Atelier at its most iconic and visually alluring make for an enormously enjoyable Don Giovanni.

Douglas Williams in the title role of Opera Atelier's 'Don Giovanni'
Douglas Williams in the title role of Opera Atelier’s ‘Don Giovanni’ (Photo : Bruce Zinger)

Meghan Lindsay (Donna Anna); Carla Huhtanen (Donna Elvira); Mireille Asselin (Zerlina); Douglas Williams (Don Giovanni); Stephen Hegedus (Leporello); Colin Ainsworth (Don Ottavio); Olivier Laquerre (Masetto); Gustav Andreassen (Commendatore); Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chorus, David Fallis, conductor; Marshall Pynkoski, director. Ed MIrvish Theatre, October 31, 2019.

Don Giovanni, one of three Da Ponte Operas by Mozart — the others being Le nozze di Figaro and Cosi fan tutte — is part of the core repertoire in opera houses around the world. Based on performance statistics (2004-2018), it is #7 in popularity among the thousands of operas in existence, having received 6,292 performances in 1,203 productions the last 15 years. It’s Mozart’s take on the Don Juan legend, and contains some of his most inspired music, framed by a deadly serious story dressed up as a comedy. What’s not to love?

This opera is certainly a staple at Opera Atelier. By my count, since its first appearance at OA in 1996, the current revival is its fifth, not counting two separate tours, to Japan (2000) and Korea (2003). The current production is a revival of the sumptuous production first seen in 2011. The sets by Gerard Gauci and costumes by the late Martha Mann represent OA at its most iconic and visually alluring — it ranks as one of the Company’s handsomest productions.

The cast of Opera Atelier’s Don Giovanni with Artists of the Atelier Ballet
The cast of Opera Atelier’s Don Giovanni with Artists of the Atelier Ballet (Photo : Bruce Zinger)

This time around, the venue has changed from the Elgin to the Ed Mirvish Theatre. While the stage is now larger and the theatre is lovely to look at, the acoustics haven’t improved much. Like the Elgin, the sound is on the dry side and lacks bloom, necessary for typically unamplified shows like opera performances. The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra musicians have to squeeze into a tiny space that’s a poor excuse for an orchestra pit. No matter, the sounds they made are still lovely, under the baton of conductor David Fallis.

OA has assembled a terrific cast. Seen in the brief role of Neptune in Idomeneo last season, American bass-baritone Douglas Williams returned to take on the much meatier Don Giovanni, singing with pleasing sound and acting with masculine swagger, exuding sex appeal and embodying the archetypal rogue. Stephen Hegedus, with his equally agile and beautiful baritone and great acting chops, proved the perfect foil for Williams, the two of them looked sufficiently alike that a mistaken identity could be believable — for 18th century folks!

Tenor Colin Ainsworth brought elegance — both in voice and appearance — to Don Ottavio. Vocally he sang “Dalla sua pace” well, although the da capo section was so quiet, coupled with his soft grained voice, it was almost too soft. And sadly, his showpiece “Il mio Tesoro” was cut. Olivier Laquerre, a stalwart OA artist, has transitioned from Leporello to Masetto, acting up a storm while vocally sounding a bit understated. Gustav Andreassen made a welcome return to OA as the Commendatore, seizing his all-too-brief moments in the sun.

Colin Ainsworth as Don Ottavio supporting Meghan Lindsay as Donna Anna with Gustav Andreassen as Commendatore and Artists of Atelier Ballet
Colin Ainsworth as Don Ottavio supporting Meghan Lindsay as Donna Anna with Gustav Andreassen as Commendatore and Artists of Atelier Ballet (Photo : Bruce Zinger)

The women were strong in every way. Meghan Lindsay has the vocal chops for an excellent Anna, so it was a shame that she didn’t get to show off with “Non mi dir.” The same can be said for the fine Elvira of Carla Huhtanen, whose big showpiece, “Mi tradi” was cut. I understand this is a very long opera, and in the earlier Prague version, the Ottavio and Elvira arias had not yet been composed. But to cut Anna’s aria? Losing three of the biggest hits in the opera is too much. We’ll never know how these three fine artists will tackle their showstoppers. As Zerlina, Mireille Asselin’s music was essentially unscathed, and she was wonderful, singing her “Batti batti” and “Vedrai carino” beautifully.

As is typical of Marshall Pynkoski’s direction, this is a very physical production, with the soloists — and everyone else! — getting a huge workout. The aesthetic of OA is to not just sing well but to be easy on the eye, and this show is a prime example. Youthful, good-looking cast in lovely costumes by Martha Mann. The staging of the dénouement, the final encounter of Don Giovanni and the Commendatore, was extremely effective, a fitting highlight of the evening. There you have it — I wished the cuts weren’t there, but it is what it is, and I still enjoyed it enormously.

Four more performances to November 9th. Details here.

#LUDWIGVAN

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Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
Joseph So

Joseph So

Joseph So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University and Associate Editor of Opera Canada.He is also a long-time contributor to La Scena Musicale and Opera (London, UK). His interest in music journalism focuses on voice, opera as well as symphonic and piano repertoires. He appears regularly as a panel member of the Big COC Podcast.He has co-edited a book, Opera in a Multicultural World: Coloniality, Culture, Performance, published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).
Joseph So
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