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His cheatin’ heart: Palle Knudsen in Don Giovanni.

Not So Dapper
By Paul Rapp

Don Giovanni
Glimmerglass 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 greatness.

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