TCO ‘Don Giovanni’ marked by strong singing and production values

Reviewed by Kathleen Harrison Cook

I’ll admit right off that this is the first time I have seen Don Giovanni anywhere. I’ve certainly heard the overture and other music from it, and of course there was that dramatic scene in the film version of Amadeus, but other than those exposures, I was an open mind without many preconceived ideas of what the show should be when I attended Tri-Cities Opera’s performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni last night (Feb. 7). There was a decent house of opera-lovers with me despite the cold first Friday in February.

As the show began, Mozart’s sweeping overture, led by guest conductor Elaine Rinaldi, was immediately exciting with the timpani exchanging rolls with the winds’ dramatic chords, and then as the curtains opened, the comic Leporello lightened the mood with great gestures and expression. The performance, by Jake Stamatis was one of the highlights of the evening, eliciting laughter frequently with his easy movement and asides to the audience. His conscience — compared to Don Giovanni’s lack of one — was well received by the audience.

Throughout the opera, staged by Laura Alley, there was a back and forth between the light and dark, serious and flirty, and that was strongly evident with the two main couples.  Melanie Leinbach as the young peasant girl Zerlina and Tom Curry as her Masetto had a wonderful tug and pull of action. Leinbach  flirted and teased while effortlessly singing “pull my hair, gouge my eyes, if that’s what it takes to make peace with me …,” and Curry sang and performed the young lover’s anger,  jealousy and confusion convincingly. Their interactions were lively.

In contast Donna Anna (Rebecca Heath) and Don Ottavio (Kevin Truax) were much more reserved, distant and staid. Perhaps this was the desired staging, and not the actors’ , but there were times I found myself wishing they would touch more or look at each other more as they sang. The vocal performances by Truax and Heath were excellent – especially shining when in the trio with Meroë Adeeb’s Donna Elvira.

I was very impressed with the athletic singing in this show. I did not hear anything at all off or pinched-sounding. Even the highest notes and runs were sung beautifully by each member of the cast, well supported and executed and truly transporting in many cases.  Heath’s upper range was sweet and lovely in the garden scene in Act Two: “Don’t tell me that I am cruel to you …”

Adeeb’s Donna Elvira was another highlight of the show. Her singing was superb and supported by wonderful facial expressions and movement. I found myself caring for her throughout the performance — a testament to her acting abilities.
It was also clear that Robert Hee-Pyoung Oh is comfortable on the stage. With his Don Giovanni, I did not feel a distinction between his singing and acting — they were one in the same. The singing was telling the story, and he did not stop his movement to tell the tale. That also speaks to his operatic ability, clear and solid.

In the program Brandon Coleman’s voice is described as having “exotic vocal colorings,” and his performance as Il Commendatore, particularly as the statue of the Commendatore, exhibited that richness. I was not surpised to further read he has performed Zarastro in The Magic Flute. His marble-esque statue costume added to the menace of the role.
It takes an entire production team to make a show work, and I felt everything came together with great  effect. The muted, almost pastel tones of  the scenery combined with the moody lighting created a lovely backdrop to the vibrant costuming. Not only were the leads dressed richly, but the peasant chorus wore a wide variety of rich colors. Of special note were the cloaks and masks worn by the trio of singers before the party, the changes of costume for Don Giovanni and the Commendatore’s statue.

Throughout the show, the set pieces flew in and out beautifully, transforming before our eyes, and I would be lacking if I didn’t mention the marvelous great hall’s fireplace in Act Two, complete with the detail of Grecian women on either side holding up the mantle, and the great smoke and furnace effect created using it.

We have a treasure in the Binghamton area with Tri Cities Opera and an outstanding opera program at Binghamton University. I highly recommend a night at the opera here or, in the case of Don Giovanni, an afternoon at the opera. The second and final performance is at 3 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 9) at The Forum, 236 Washington St., Binghamton. Call 772-0400 for tickets.

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