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OPERA REVIEW Don Giovanni
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2019-11-26

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Score: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte

At: Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Dr. Tickets: 312-827-5600 or LyricOpera.org; $39-$299. Runs through Dec. 8

When opera companies revive old productions, the original director typically doesn't return to work with the new cast or conductor. But the Lyric Opera of Chicago has bucked that trend twice so far this season.

Leonard Foglia powerfully restaged his 2002 production of Dead Man Walking for its Lyric premiere. And now Tony Award-winner and Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls revisits his 2014 take on Don Giovanni.

Mozart and Da Ponte's 1787 masterpiece is about a serial seducer nobleman who gets gets a supernatural comeuppance. It holds a special place with the Lyric as the company's first-ever production in 1954, and Falls' updated 1920s-era version was created for the Lyric's 60th anniversary.

Five years on, Falls' dark jazz-age approach still makes for a dramatic and thoughtful production—especially when placed in its historical context marking the waning influence of an corrupted aristocrat before the cataclysm of the Spanish Civil War. Conductor James Gaffigan leads the Lyric Orchestra in a fleet reading of Mozart's score to bring the drama to the fore.

U.S. baritone Lucas Meachem brought a cocky jock swagger to the title libertine, thanks to his powerful voice and hulking physique. This is a Don Giovanni who revels in swanky clothes and cocaine when he's not involved in kinky sexual entrapements. ( Italian baritone Davide Luciano takes over the role in December. )

Meachem worked well with British bass Matthew Rose as Leporello, the flunky manservant who both reviles and reveres his boss. There's also a great frisson in Meachem's scenes with the conflicted Donna Elvira of American soprano Amanda Majeski ( her character wants revenge on and/or to be reunited with her ex ).

There's more lovely singing from the other romantic couples. American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen brings an aching nobility to the mourning Donna Anna, while American tenor Ben Bliss was solid as her stalwart suitor Don Ottavio.

The jealous squabbling and sweet reconcilations between the peasant newlyweds of Zerlina ( Chinese soprano Ying Fang ) and Masetto ( American bass-baritone Brandon Cedel ) were also lots of fun.

This is a very respectible revival, even with some early-on staging sloppiness on opening night.

The post-sexual assault struggles between Donna Anna and the "in-disguise" Don Giovanni were confusing and not in the moment. Then Don Giovanni's deadly fight with her father, The Commendarore ( the vocally booming Finish bass Mika Kares ), felt far too careful. ( Thankfully, fight director Nick Sandys' later work in the production was far more convincing. )

On the whole, the Lyric's Don Giovanni still holds up as a sleek and stylish production. Now's your chance to see it if you missed it the first time around.


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