Vancouver Opera’s Don Giovanni brings out the Italian in everybody

Just call me Todderico Wongiovanni.   I felt very Italian attending the Vancouver Opera’s Don Giovanni opera on March 1st.  Mozart is always very accessible, and I have always remembered the Commendatore Scene from both the play and movie Amadeus.  “Don Giovanni” – the ghost of the commendatore sings… in baritone.

This story is based on the womanizing character of Don Juan/Don Giovanni, performed on different nights by Daniel Okulitch and Brett Polegato.  On Opening night Okulitch was a perfect rake, playing women against each other, lying with deceit, and masterminding his selfish games for his own purpose.

The other principal roles of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, as well as the Commendatore (Donna Anna’s father) are also all played by double performers.  On opening night Erin Wall and Krisztina Szabo were brilliant in their seductions and seductee roles.

The highlight of this opera is the set design with multiple projections that easily and quickly tranform a castle ballroom into an outside street scene and back again.  The creative figures of statues and use of angles give an imaginative depth of field.

Inventive was also the use of a walkway surrounding the orchestra pit, that allowed the performers to come closer to the audience and give more room for staging.  It really felt more intimate with the four lead singers standing so close to the audience and singing, However, the orchestra seemed more muffled, and less brilliant in sound quality.

For the last decade, we have expected and received nothing less than perfection from Vancouver Opera.  This production is the first exception. The singers and orchestra were grand, of course, but the staging left a lot to be desired.  Having the stage extend out into the audience and around the orchestra pit created the difficulty of having the singers have to project even farther over the pit and stage. This created some balance problems where the singers were hard to hear, and the orchestra sounded small and muted. The Opera has been experimenting recently with “audience engagement.” They have brought in performers before the shows to mingle with the audience, and have a photographer at the entrance for guests to create a souvenir of the evening, and for the Opera to use in future promotions and on social media. Look at us, were having a great night out!

The images were spectacular, but could also be distracting. A night out at the opera is always an evening to be celebrated.  The roles were well cast, and the story, while long, did not drag. VO is to becongratulated for the exceptional quality of the shows, and their attempts to stay modern and relevant in the 21st century.  I truly appreciate the way they are reaching out to new audiences and taking chances on commissions and unusual programming.


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