Friday, July 12, 2019

Don Giovanni gets the chair in Heartbeat Opera production

Instead of being dragged down into hell, Don Giovanni got the electric chair in the new interpretation that Heartbeat Opera gives to Mozart’s masterpiece. The intrepid New York-based company’s reimagining of Don Giovanni in a semi-stage concert version intrigued a nearly full house at Lincoln Hall on Saturday, July 7 as part of the Chamber Music Northwest festival. By altering the plot a bit and using a new arrangement by composer Daniel Schlosberg for a chamber ensemble of seven, Heartbeat Opera refreshed Don Giovanni but still came up a bit short.

Directed by Louisa Proske, the production pretty much followed the traditional storyline up to the big party scene in which the Don almost rapes Zerlina, but instead of escaping, the Don is cornered and almost stripped bare by the partygoers. In the second act, Don Giovanni is held in hospital-jail cell where a doctor gives him injections, perhaps to deaden his libertine instincts. Everyone else is held in a waiting room, and the doctor finally returns to put a harness on Don Giovanni and then press the button to electrocute him.

Leela Subramaniam in the role of Donna Anna was a standout, and her vocal prowess dominated many of the ensemble numbers. Tyler Putnam’s stentorian bass baritone and versatile acting terrifically conveyed the Commendatore and Massetto. Matthew Gamble created a likeable yet conflicted Leporello. Samarie Alicea’s Zerlina sparkled with desire. Felicia Moore fashioned a forceful and convincing Donna Elvira. Joshua Sanders distinguished himself with eloquent singing as Don Ottavio.

John Taylor Ward in the title role sang gracefully but his voice seemed a bit too soft, and his acting was somewhat on the cool side. Perhaps I have seen too many hot-blooded Don Giovannis. In any case, I just didn’t find Ward convincing.

The septet of musicians performed Schlosberg’s arrangement with verve. The melodies inventively swirled between clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich, violinists Jacob Ashworth and Katie Hyun, violist Carrie Frey, cellist Clare Monfredo, bassist Evan Runyon, and harpsichordist Schlosberg (with Schlosberg wearing a wig and playing a synthesizer during the party scene). In the second act, some of the opera was shortened, and Schlosberg periodically interjected suspended, high pitched chords, which created an eerie effect, especially when the doctor pressed the syringe into the neck of Don Giovanni. The final note of the opera was an off-pitched near-honk from the clarinet. Perhaps it was a negation of the final moralizing sextet, or it signaled Don Giovanni’s undying defiance. It was sort of an ugly way to end the opera.

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