cheatin heart: Palle Knudsen in Don Giovanni.
Opera, Cooperstown, July 6
Glimmerglass Opera’s ren-dition of Mozart’s Don Giovanni
was wonderful, fine, surprising, yeah-you-should-go, this-is-what-modern-opera-should-be,
etc. Really. At its core, though, there was something missing.
The new production, for all the bells and whistles, didn’t
seem to know what it wanted to be when it grew up.
This was the story of Don Juan (Palle Knudsen), the consummate
nogoodnik who lived to boink anything in a skirt. It is also
an opera with several instantly recognizable musical melodies,
most notably the one immortalized by Monty Python in its “I’m
a Lumberjack” skit.
The sets are often the stars of Glimmerglass productions,
and this was no exception. Huge panels enveloped the stage,
with numerous doors opening and closing within the panels
to allow characters to pop out and lights to cast long shows
across the stage. At once minimal and extravagant, the set
showed how creativity and vision can trump clutter and props.
Uniformly, the play was visually stunning.
As well as a morality play, this was a comedy, with all of
the main characters showing various aspects of buffoonery,
usually at unfortunate times. The comedic acting, both physical
and vocal, was terrific. The funny money-shot occurred part-way
through the first act, as Loperello (Don Juan’s long-suffering
man-servant, played buoyantly by Kyle Ketelson) was explaining
what a Big Creep Don Juan is. First Loperello produced the
Little Black Book (which was, inexplicably, brown). Then he
opened a big triangular door and rolled out a huge shiny file
cabinet as big as a house. This was Don Juan’s “museum,” and
Loperello opened its drawers to reveal a collection of women’s
underwear. This was shocking, funny and striking. The laughter
continued long after the files were pushed back off the stage,
and the stunt gave the act a burst of energy that was needed
right about then.
The singing was uniformly good, pleasant, competent, and effective,
although there were no performances that lifted one out of
one’s seat and set one spinning around the rafters like Tommy
Lee during a drum solo. The only singer to approach such transcendence
was soprano Donna Anna (Maria Kanyova) who nailed a couple
of pieces, drawing sustained applause and a few bravos.
The costumes were largely missing in action. Donna Elvira
(played with great vampishness by Amy Bruton) made her initial
entrance wearing this ridiculous blue/green/purple number
that lit up the stage. And that was about it. Her outfits
for the rest of the show were tame and unremarkable. This
may have been an attempt to reflect a moderating of her personality,
but it didn’t read. The outlandish initial outfit just stood
out, a curious anomaly. The rest of the cast wore what appeared
to be street clothes or standard, timid costumes. The big,
dramatic-yet-minimal sets cried out for some clothes that
made a statement, provided some definition, and rounded out
the characters. They weren’t there.
And a nice Labrador retriever made an appearance early on
and inexplicably never came back. And the pooch wagged quite
effectively, but did not sing.
Undoubtedly individual performances will gain life and nuance
as the summer goes on and while the production was very, very
good, very skilled and absolutely big league, it did not reach