Tuesday, February 09, 2010

That Was Great, Daddy

I feel privileged to have lived long enough to stand up at the end of a performance of 'Don Giovanni', and find in the row behind me a young girl barely reaching my belt in height, and saying as we all left the theatre after the standing ovation, "That was great, Daddy".
The performance was the UWO Music Faculty performance of "Don Giovanni" on the afternoon of February 7. This was the last performance of this production, so unfortunately you cannot go see it now. It was far and away the most satisfying of the many productions I have watched; amusingly, both of the top two were performed in London, Ontario.
What made it so good? I think the core was the direction. I have never seen the characters so clearly as their archetypes. And this does clarify the whole opera nicely : the Don himself, full of appetite, arrogant, and ultimately wonderfully defiant in his refusal to accept social norms; his manservant Leporello, full of the same appetites, but with none of the, yes, courage; Elvira, torn between two feelings; Ana, needing vengeance, and Ottavio, dominated by his love (very sweet) for Ana; Zerlina, the little minx, and Masetto, her fiance, who cannot quite deal with her minx-ness. Of course direction needs performers and the ones we get were well up to it. There was NO weak link.
Now when SillyWife alerted me to this production I wondered how mere students could handle the stress of all these performances - the answer is, partly, that the production ran with different casts on different days, which is also a great thing for a program preparing students for a career. So in the end, as I recite names, they come from what the handout program says was the cast of the day.
Clarence Frazer was a wonderfully arrogant Giovanni, maybe more malicious than any I had previously seen, but that makes sense; Michael Rusnak should have a great comic career ahead of him after his tour de force as Leporello - his skills were exploited especially well in the final dinner scene, as he helped displace some of the intensity from the confrontation between the Don and the Commandante; Natalie Donnelly's Anna was solid and delightful; Michael Marion's Ottavio was excellent, and his sweet tenor made Ottavio's many sweet arias exposing his love for Ana particularly delightful; Gabrielle Heidinger's Elvira perfectly reflected her torn feelings; Breanna Temple's Zerlina was the perfect minx Zerlina is; Joseph Herbison made Masetto an utterly satisfying frustrated fiance.
The orchestra was yet another star. And with it, maybe a truly major star was the Paul Davenport Theatre, the wonderfully refurbished old Talbot Theatre on the Western campus. Everything sounded just great.
Thank you, UWO Music Faculty!
A few side thoughts.
The audiences in these shows usually feature a lot of family, and with that a lot of people who normally do not go to opera, especially younger siblings, and so can react without knowing all the rules, and this is very enjoyable. A part of the audience erupted in laughter wonderfully at the scene where Leporello reminds Giovanni of the name 'Elvira' by showing him his hit list. And I have never been in a production where the audience erupts in applause as Giovanni is pulled down through the gates of hell, but this one did, and that seems to a perfectly right response.
It also struck me it must be fun performing such a subversive piece of work, amusingly subversive now too in a world university environment so fraught with ridiculous political correctness. I suspect Mr. Herbison enjoyed having to bury his nose in Ms. Temple's cleavage. I enjoyed watching it, and the audience reaction showed a lot of the people in it did too. And there are several other lovely examples in this opera.
Other stars clearly are Mozart and Da Ponte. When I got home I had to check into Da Ponte's life - this libretto is no accident. Don Giovanni is almost a pale force beside Da Ponte and his life. Go read his Wikipedia entry.
One other thought - how does one University music program assemble so much talent? They must work very hard at recruiting, and more power to them. I am amazed.
In the end, for me, my favorite moment was still the one I opened with, when that very young girl thanked her father for taking her to the show. Maybe in 15 years she will be on the same stage. I hope to be able to see that.
Oh by the way - I joined in this standing ovation, and my regular readers know I do not do that often.


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