Peabody rises to 'Giovanni'

February 18, 1997|By David Donovan | David Donovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Mozart's "Don Giovanni" has a cast-iron reputation as the "opera of all operas." And while librettist Lorenzo da Ponte's version of the Don Juan legend may be overrated, it certainly inspired the composer to write some of his greatest music.

Mozart's music is always a challenge, but on Thursday night in Friedberg Hall, a new production by the Peabody Opera Theater rose admirably to the occasion with a fresh and radiant account of this mighty score.

Thursday's cast -- which varied from that on Friday and Sunday -- was generally strong, both vocally and dramatically. Best of all was Vladimir Shvets' portrayal of Leporello, the Don's manservant and -- with the possible exception of Verdi's Falstaff -- the single greatest comic creation in the history of opera. Shvets savored the role's buffo elements, singing the catalog aria that enumerates his master's conquests -- "one thousand and one in Spain alone," Leporello tells us -- with exquisite control and handling the physical demands of the part with a true sense of joy.

Carleton Chambers' Don was almost as impressive. His voice had plenty of power and he had an equally commanding stage presence. Margaret Mary Kane was a near-perfect Donna Elvira; her mastery of the almost instrumentally conceived music for this jilted lady never failed to deliver.

Hyunah Yu and Arturo Chacon sang with bite and sauciness that brought to life both Zerlina, the peasant girl who is all too willing to become one of the Don's victims, and Masetto, her fiance who endures one humiliation after another in his efforts to preserve her virtue. Chacon has a most impressive voice, and Yu was especially disarming in the charming "Bati, batti" aria.

Less impressive were T. Norwood Robinson's Don Ottavio, Peter Murphy's Commendatore and Vicki Downer's Donna Anna. Their accounts of these demanding roles were credible, but they were troubled by slight problems with pitch and tone production.

A huge contribution to the success of the production was made by the Peabody Concert Orchestra and its conductor, Hajime Teri Murai. Murai drove the overture a little too breathlessly, but, for the most part, the orchestra gave him exactly what his conception of the score demanded.

The first-class performance by these young and talented singers and musicians was matched by the design of the production. The simple, elegant set by Thomas Donahue consisted of a grand staircase, which rose above and then crossed the stage, and needed only a few drapes to prove its versatility.

The size limitations of the stage made it necessary for set changes to take place on stage. But director Roger Brunyate's decision to outfit the stage crew as servants made the transitions seamless. Douglas Nelson's lighting was wonderfully ghostly and made particularly memorable the title character's fiery descent into hell.

Pub Date: 2/18/97

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