Review: Opera Naples ‘Don Giovanni’ hits the mark musically, but not visually
Don Giovanni put his conquests in a book. Matthew Trevino can put his portrayal of the libido-driven, unrepentant star of Mozart’s opera in his resumé.
For much of the 2 1/2 -hour Opera Naples production last weekend, Trevino was onstage and relishing the rake’s role every minute of it. Melodic, devilishly charming and expressive, Trevino was a perfect choice for Opera Naples’ — and his own — premiere of the work. His portrayal was was ear and eye candy for the audience.
It’s not that Trevino didn’t have competition from the rest of the cast in this production last Friday and Sunday at the Performing Arts Hall of Gulf Coast High School. Amanda Hall, the wronged Donna Anna, has a sparkling soprano voice and solid stage presence. Jason Hardy, although he had trouble projecting his bass over full-orchestra volume, makes Leporello, the don’s long-suffering servant, a solid comic character that wins his own fan base. Everyone, in fact, gets a turn to steal the show: Shawnette Sulker, as Zerlina, another potential Don conquest, is the right combination of coquettish and steadfast, with a sweet soprano voice. Even the second-level role of Don Ottavio, Donna Anna’s betrothed, gets much better treatment from Brian Cheney’s strong tenor than the powerless Ottavio probably deserves. It’s an evening worth buying the sound track to, particularly with that strong 29-piece orchestra behind it under the baton of conductor Franz Vote.
Still, there are holes in the production, first noticeable from a set that doesn’t live up to its translocation to late 18th-century New Orleans. If the architecture is meant to portray its pre-fire wooden cottages of the early 1780s, the stucco look doesn’t seem in sync with the history. With the stucco-clad brick dwellings that followed the great fire of 1788, wrought iron — not the wooden look in this set — became the material of choice for balconies. What’s onstage doesn’t fit clearly in either category. Nor is there a nod to the verdant heritage of New Orleans, which could have been at least a bit better attempted with a few flower boxes on those porch rails.
There also are some disconnects between Robert Swedberg’s direction and the story line: It would have helped for the program to reveal that Donna Anna is a willing accomplice in orgasm at the beginning of the play because she thinks the masked male seducer in her bedroom is her fiance.
Nor could this production surmount the drawback of Mozartian era recitatives, those sung conversations that can be deadly in stand-and-sing posture. There was too much of it going on here. Whether the performing arts like it or not, the bar has been raised and the attention span diminished in 21st-century audiences raised on car chases, frenetic characters, drop-down boxes and pull-out videos. Even a new opera audience has been developed — or spoiled, choose one — by the Metropolitan Opera HD series with cameras that zoom in for close-ups, race along tracks to feed the illusion of motion and that boast highly ornate (Franco Zeferelli’s “Turandot”) or supersonically stylized (Robert LePage’s “Ring” cycle) sets.