Review: Don Giovanni (Opera Atelier)

I suspect that one of the many reasons for Don Giovanni’s enduring popularity is the brilliance of the overture. In the first few bars Mozart, in his infinite genius, manages to capture all  the themes of the piece. The overture is at once sensual, sinister and playful, three excellent adjectives to describe this opera. The orchestra did a wonderful job of setting the tone and exposing all of these themes before the curtain ever came up.

Opera Atelier’s ability to take the audience back to the period in which the opera was written is unparalleled. Every detail of this period production was carefully executed. Not only were the costumes and set right out of the 18th century, the performers were also obviously extensively coached on 18th century stage movement and gesture. The use of ballet is also very consistent with period staging and something that I always greatly enjoy about Atelier productions.

Don Giovanni is W. A. Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s version of the story of Don Juan, ostensibly the world’s greatest lover. I will say that this has always been my least favourite of Mozart operas, in large part because rape is just not as funny in 2011 as it was in 1787. While a goodly portion of Don Giovanni’s countless victims are willing, the opera makes it quite clear that when seduction fails, Don Giovanni has no qualms about resorting to sexual assault.

While the audience is certainly not expected to see Giovanni as a hero, he falls solidly into the camp of comedic villain; the reality is that some of the comedy just does not stand the test of time. That being said, the vast majority of the humour translates well to the modern day, which is no small feat for an opera that is 224 years old. Despite my reservations about certain aspects of the work, the production kept me laughing out loud for the better part of three hours.

Phillip Addis was a brilliant choice for the title role. Not only is he an excellent singer, he is also quite easy on the eyes. In other productions of this opera I have had major credibility issues with the title character in that it has seemed quite farfetched that the individual has seduced vast numbers of women. In fact, I must say that all the male leads in this production were people you actually wanted to see in tights.

Vasil Garvanliev did a wonderful job with the role of Leporello, Don Giovanni’s long suffering man servant, who not so secretly frowns on his master’s debaucherous lifestyle. Leporello gets the vast majority of the comedic lines in this piece. Garvanliev, in addition to having a warm, fresh and agile bass voice, demonstrates himself to be a gifted comedic actor who captures the over-the-top style of comedic Opera Buffa perfectly. Lawrence Wiliford, who played Don Ottavio, is also an exceptional singer. His light, sweet, crystal clear and fluid tone is exactly what we want to hear from a romantic Mozartian tenor.

I greatly appreciated Peggy Kriha Dye’s interpretation of Donna Elvira, Don Giovanni’s jilted ex-lover. In other productions I have found this character to be petulant, naive and foolish. In this production she is  hilarious and sympathetic in her quest for righteous vengeance.

The climactic scene in which Don Giovanni is led to hell by demons and the ghost of his murder victim from the opening scene was beautiful. The stage became bathed in a red glow, the flames of hell rising up in the background. Most stunning of all, Atelier’s ballet dancers played the role of the demons, who surrounded Don Giovanni in undulating red and orange fabric; the most visually effective execution of this scene I have seen to date.

This was my companion’s first time at the opera, and while she shared my feminist concerns, she couldn’t help but be won over by the outrageous good fun of this piece.



– Don Giovanni plays at Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street on:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011, 7:30 P.M.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011, 7:30 P.M.
Friday, November 4, 2011, 7:30 P.M.
Saturday, November 5, 2011, 7:30 P.M.

– Tickets can be bought online or by phone at 1-855-622-2787, or at the Elgin Box Office at 189 Yonge St.
Group tickets are also available ; those under 30 can purchase tickets for $20 each with valid ID
– Regular ticket prices range from $40 to $180