Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 28
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
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(Photo by Jeff Reeder)
SO MANY WOMEN, SO LITTLE TIME: Don Giovanni (Andrew Garland), ponders how many different women at his party will soon yield to his charms.

Men Take Notice, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” Proves That Virtue Ultimately Wins Out

Nancy Plum

There are operas which characterize women as vixens and operas which portray women as lost in love and soon to die. Very few operas can hold as much appeal for women as Mozart’s Don Giovanni, built around one of women’s favorite premises that men can be true Lotharios, and not only that — the bad guy gets it at the end of the show. Premiered in 1787, Don Giovanni revolutionized opera by combining the comic levity of 18th century vaudeville with a profoundly dark morality that eventually prevails. Opera New Jersey, opening its first season under new artistic and administrative leadership, presented a highly energized production this past weekend, showing off a young and talented cast whose voices and commitment will take them far in the operatic world.

Conductor Joel Revzen, currently based in Phoenix, Arizona, began the opera’s long overture in a tempo which indicated that the production was going to move along. The subito fortes in the opening measures were a bit subdued, but the clarity of the orchestra’s playing was evident from the beginning. The lengthy music was enhanced visually by projections (designed by Barry Steele) delineating a series of “Don Juans” (changed to Giovanni by librettist Da Ponte) through history. Although seeming a bit over the top by naming almost every woman who ever lived, the point was clear as Mr. Steele’s shadows and lighting brought the story to the opera’s beginning outside the Commendatore’s house.

It was easy to dislike Don Giovanni (as he ran around with every woman in the fictional town) but it was also impossible not to like the character as played by baritone Andrew Garland. Saucy enough to garner the ladies’ favors and attention, Mr. Garland displayed a solid and controlled baritone voice which belied his boyish looks and agile way of taking over the stage. One aspect of opera production Mozart never could have anticipated was 21st century technology, evident in Giovanni’s dialog, sung with Zerlina, in which electronics painted a rainbow leading to their fanciful united home.

“Don Giovanni” will play Saturday July 24 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, August 1 at 2 p.m. Opera New Jersey will present Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” on Saturday, July 17 at 8 p.m. at the Berlind Theater. For information call (609) 258-2787 or visit

Bass Matt Boehler, singing the role of Giovanni’s sidekick Leporello, is definitely a veteran of character roles and humorous opera, taking a very physical approach to the part. Lean and lanky, Mr. Boehler was a perfect foil for Giovanni, crossing back and forth between being impressed with Giovanni’s conquests and throwing up his hands at what to do next with this guy. As with all the principal singers, Mr. Boehler and the orchestra were perfectly timed in dynamic swells, nuance, and musical timing.

Most Mozart operas have two soprano roles, one dramatic and one soubrette, but Don Giovanni has two lyric soprano parts which are conspiratorially united against Giovanni. As the more matronly Donna Anna, Jennifer Black had a powerful dramatic voice which carried her well through a demanding role. Donna Anna’s part required typically Mozartean singing in the first act, but in the second act, her desperation to find her father’s assassin foreshadowed the formidable and demanding operas of the mid to late 19th century. Donna Elvira, sung by Laquita Mitchell, maintained a regal presence throughout the opera, with a voice that soared through its upper register. These two sopranos were joined onstage by Abigail Nims, who sang the soubrette role of Zerlina with great comic drama (showing slight hints of Bridezilla in her impending marriage to Masetto) and great musical nuance in the character’s signature “Batti, batti.”

The audience had a long wait for the feature aria by the lone tenor in the cast, Don Ottavio, the fiancé of Donna Anna. Tenor Steven Sanders was a decisive singer throughout the first act, and his rendition of “Il mio tesoro” in the second act added a smooth lyrical element to his performance.

Don Giovanni is heavy on the bass roles, most notably Masetto, sung by David Cushing with rich bass overtones; and the Commendatore, who came back to life and to dinner via bass Young-Bok Kim, a Juilliard graduate and clearly a force to be reckoned with in the operatic world.

Joel Revzen led an ensemble of New Jersey Symphony Orchestra players with clarity, alternating harpsichord and orchestral accompaniment for recitatives and arias. Although the recitative accompaniment took a while to get going, harpsichordist Lynn Baker provided expert playing, and the transitions back to the orchestra were smooth. What separated this production from other recent Don Giovannis in the area were the visual effects, which in most cases were very impressive, especially when combined with lighting. One does not want to give away techno-secrets of the show, and audiences can decide for themselves what worked.

In his pre-performance remarks, Opera New Jersey General Director Richard Russell referenced a goal of making Princeton an opera destination, especially in the summer. With two Princeton opera companies providing multiple productions throughout June and July, it is clear that this goal is certainly attainable and there is plenty of room for all.

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