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Clean, clear, well sung, graced by a dashingly handsome leading man and unencumbered by any modernist concept that might warp the imperishable masterpiece’s qualities; such is the Don Giovanni currently on display as the second production of LA Opera’s season at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
So many opera stagings are now filtered through some manner of interpretive construct that it’s refreshing to see one as pure and straightforward as this one, originally directed by Peter Stein at the Chicago Lyric and here mounted by Gregory A. Fortner. It’s not that Mozart‘s and Da Ponte’s 1787 original has been stripped down to its bones, far from it, only that nothing stands between the piece and the audience’s direct engagement with the music and the drama, which themselves are more than enough to invigorate the mind, the senses and the soul.
Befitting the status of such a notorious libertine, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo’s Don Giovanni forces all other men into the shadows as he bestrides color-drenched Mediterranean settings here in his single-minded search for new conquests. The Italian bass-baritone is tall, dark and handsome, to be sure, and strikingly accoutered in tight black trousers and boots with white ruffles peeking out from under a silk burgundy knee-length coat, his long black hair tied back.
Vocally persuasive across a very wide range, from forceful belting to soft, imploring tones just one notch above a whisper that easily register in the back of the house, D’Arcangelo convincing plays the Don as a seducer both by nature and avocation, one who is both born that way and easily capable of defending his compulsions with philosophical underpinnings. It’s his arrogant sense of untouchability, not his casual cruelty to women beginning with Donna Elvira, that does him in.
While the production lacks the urgency and throbbing pulse that might have made it enthralling, its lucidity and confident ease allows one to ruminate upon the many elemental wonders of this great work, from its psychological insight and views on romanticism to its presentation of class prerogatives and eternal verities. To its credit, the staging allows the work to speak rather than its interpreters.
There are shortcuts, including scenes played out in front of the curtain while set changes are implemented, and some sloppiness of movement when too many people in the crowds don’t seem entirely sure where to move and when. But the singing ranges from solid to strong from, among others, David Bizic as Don Giovanni’s oft-put-upon manservant Leporello, Soile Isokoski as the insulted Donna Elvira, Roxana Constantinescu as the foxy bride-to-be pursued by the Don and Ievgen Orlov as the Commendatore.
Conductor James Conlon’s command of the orchestra is as assured as ever.
Venue: LA Opera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (through Oct. 14)
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte
Cast: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Soile Isokoski, David Bizic, Julianna Di Giacomo, Ievgen Orlov, Andrej Dunaev, Roxana Constantinescu, Joshua Bloom
Director: Gregory A. Fortner
Original production: Peter Stein
Conductor: James Conlon
Set designer: Ferdinand Wogerbauer
Costume designer: Moidele Bickel
Lighting designer: Duane Schuler
203 minutes, including one 25-minute intermissions
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