CEDAR RAPIDS — Rarely has a nod to the past, present and future worked as well as in the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s production of “Don Giovanni.”
Judging from the seamless quality of Wednesday’s final dress rehearsal, audiences for tonight’s opening and Sunday’s repeat at the Paramount Theatre are in for a visual and aural treat that will be hard to top.
Dripping with drama, Rob Sunderman’s fragmented scenery with soaring faux marble pillars and divisive fracture provides a futuristic setting anchored in history, and a symbiotic backdrop for Janie Westendorf’s glorious, sparkling 18th-century costumes. Intricate, moody lighting by Scott Olinger, and modern projected special effects designed by Kristen Geisler give just the right crash/bang to this tale of seduction wrapped in deception.
Sarah Fried’s wig design deserves a special bow, giving a swaggering edge to Christopher Burchett’s Lothario, Don Giovanni, as well as a visual feast to the birdie minions swirling around him and the highbrow characters attending the lavish masquerade in Seville. Their opulence is reminiscent of their French counterparts in the Louis courts, and Eloy Barragan’s choreography is a highlight throughout, for nobles and peasants alike. Mozart tells his tale in Italian, through some of his most magnificent music. The beauty of Mozart is that while he did write for nobility, he also wrote for commoners, so his works are accessible to everyday audiences then and now.
Mozart’s music is sophisticated and challenging for the singer/actors, but falls easily listeners’ ears. It’s as engaging and captivating as his cast of characters.
Orchestra Iowa, under the impeccable baton of Opera Theatre founder Daniel Kleinknecht, adds masterful musicality, from subtle, delicate nuances to thunderous storms.
Stage director William Ferrara asks much of the singers, as well, in a show that cries for truly good acting. After a couple of early hiccups, the action begins to gather momentum and builds to a stunning conclusion with a mesmerizing pop culture touch of “The Walking Dead.”
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The opening scene is puzzling, in that much of the cast is gathered onstage, but nothing happens, making the overture rather awkward, especially for the title character. Lee Poulis, who plays Don Giovanni’s servant Leporello, also makes a tentative entrance, squandering his chance to firmly establish his comedic role with the audience. It takes a couple of scenes to warm up to him, but when he loosens up, our sympathy and affection for him grows.
All the singing is superb, from beginning to end, as Don Giovanni trifles his way through his goal of bedding at least a dozen women at his grand party, not caring if they are peasant or princess. Murder lurks in the shadows, with plot twists and turns as the women he has used and abused seek vengeance.
Veronica Mitina as Donna Elvira and Danielle Talamantes as Donna Anna are nothing short of brilliant in their impassioned arias, drawing shouts of “brava” from the few folks watching the rehearsal.
Jonathan Blalock has a moment of magnificence, as well, as Anna’s fiance, Don Ottavio, completely conflicted over his task of avenging the wrongs committed to his Anna. The range and depth of his emotion are stunning, matched only by Talamantes’ love song in which her shimmering high notes float on air.
Rubin Casas provides rumbling bravura as Anna’s nobleman father, Il Commendatore, who is Don Giovanni’s undoing in a scenario so magnificent audiences will be talking about it for days to come. And all the modern-day implications of the various ripped-from-the-headlines scenarios will resonate, as well, with a shudder.