Review – Don Giovanni (Vancouver Opera)

Vancouver Opera’s third opera in the 2013-14 season was Mozart’s perennially popular Don Giovanni – hardly the most daring of choices, but one that is popular and never fails to please. As it turns out, the opening night performance on March 1st exceeded all expectations, with world-class musical values (from an all-Canadian cast) and clever, fast-paced production.

The production, directed by Kelly Robinson and co-produced with Canada’s Banff Centre, dealt exceptionally well with the episodic nature of da Ponte’s libretto. Featuring a two-tiered unit set with 3 panels and 2 staircases, Bob Bonniol’s highly realistic projections seamlessly transitioned from street to ballroom to bedroom as necessary. The only projection misstep was a series of amorphous red blobs highly reminiscent of Rorschach tests in the final scene. They eventually evolved into giant statues, but it was more puzzling than dramatic. As a result, the visual element of the evening was dazzling, colourful, and never lagged – sadly slightly undermined by Robinson’s rather generalized characterizations. A real shame, considering the fact that I’ve seen every member of the cast act marvelously.

As a result, it was difficult for Daniel Okulitch to make the impact that the role calls for. Switching between a bitter alcoholic and a narcissistic aristocrat without much motivation, Okulitch nevertheless impressed with his nimble, elegant singing. Particularly impressive was his ‘Deh vieni alla finestra’, ornamented beautifully and sung in the softest pianissimo imaginable. As his servant Leporello, Stephen Hegedus impressed in his big aria – more importantly, he made the most out of his extensive recitatives with Don Giovanni. Rachel Fenlon and Aaron Durand made a vivacious, youthful pair as Zerlina and Masetto, both making the most of their arias. Krisztina Szabo’s high mezzo is ideal for Donna Elvira, and her commitment and intensity were outstanding. Her ‘Mi tradi’ (sung in the soprano key) was not only perfectly sung but also demented in the best way.

Best of all, however, were Colin Ainsworth and Erin Wall as Don Ottavio and Donna Anna. Well-known for his experience in Lully and Rameau’s haute-contre roles, Ottavio’s wide range and floridity did not seem to tax him in the slightest. Though his ‘Il mio tesoro’ was impressive, it was his stunning ‘Dalla sua pace’ that won the audience over. Erin Wall has made Donna Anna something of a calling-card role – her even, flexible voice encompasses all of the role’s demands from the wide-ranging leaps of ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ to the floated high notes and coloratura of ‘Non mi dir’. Not only that, she gives a stunningly intense portrayal and had the audience pinned to their seats during her dramatic recitatives in act 1.

Stuart Bedford led the Vancouver Opera Orchestra in a polished, elegant account of the score, and balance and ensemble were exemplary considering the set featured a walkway extending in front of the pit. This exact walkway, however, resulted in a somewhat muted orchestral sound. Overall a highly enjoyable evening at the opera, worth seeing mainly for the uniformly excellent cast.