Last night saw the first of two performances of Don Giovanni by the students of the Glenn Gould School at Koerner Hall. Koerner Hall isn’t the easiest venue to do fully staged opera since it is basically a concert hall with very limited lighting and stage facilities. Ashlie Corcoran and Camellia Coo pulled off perhaps the most inventive staging I have seen there by using a giant staircase to link the part of the gallery that wraps around the stage to the stage itself. Within this basic configuration they deployed a few bits and pieces of furniture, mostly couches. It made a very serviceable unit set for the various scenes. The production was set in the 1960s and seemed to revolve around the basic idea of Don Giovanni as a “chick magnet”. All the usual suspects are clearly attracted to him. There’s no hint of coercion in the opening scene with Donna Anna and Zerlina is a very willing seductee. The idea is reinforced in “Deh vieni” when, as Don Giovanni is serenading Donna Elvira’s maid, five or six women make their way to the staircase and down to the man himself.
The treatment of the Commendatore, sung by Raymond Acolas, was interesting. There’s no statue. Instead Don Giovanni and Leporello encounter the corpse and the fatal message is contained in a letter in the dead man’s hand. At the end the ghost of the Commendatore, in ghostly white, appears at the top of the staircase and descends to do his thing with Don Giovanni. At the same the corpse is resurrected and stands in the background. One thing that is a bit odd, here and elsewhere, is that while the original Italian libretto is sung, the surtitle translations are changed to reflect what we are actually seeing.
The idea of Don Giovanni as one around whom sexuality swirls is reinforced throughout. There are couples making out on the upper level of the set for most of the piece and the party at Don Giovanni’s is distinctly orgiastic. Diego Catala brings this characterization to life effectively with a rather bullying, swaggering performance that contrasts effectively with the “cheeky chappy” Leporello of Jonathon Kirby (who inexplicably has his foot in a splint throughout). The physical contrast between the two is turned to good effect when Kirby tries desperately to make himself look bigger during his scene with Donna Elvira.
The ladies are an interesting contrast. Alexandra Leblanc gave a strongly sung performance as Donna Anna. One suspects much more dramatic repertory lies in the not too distant future. Heather Kozak was an elegant and sexy Donna Elvira. Perhaps her high notes have a tendency to get away from her a little but that’s not an uncommon problem and I can see her developing into a very capable singing actress. Beste Kalender was a fairly conventional Zerlina, singing sweetly and playing with the BDSM elements of the role in the best topping from the bottom tradition. Tristan Jones was also fairly conventional but perfectly adequate as Masetto. The only casting I was less happy about was Justin Stolz as Don Ottavio. Of course, this is the hardest role to bring off and many very good singers come off as deadly dull. That wasn’t Stolz’s problem as he characterized the part well. He just didn’t sound Mozartian to me. His voice has a lot of slice and just seemed half a size too large and strident for Mozart. I think he could be very good in heavier repertoire in the not too distant future though. Yje singers got excellent support from the small chorus, the excellent Conservatory orchestra and conductor Uri Mayer.
There;s one more performance on Friday 22nd March at 7pm. Catch it if you cn.