Review: Don Giovanni (Odd Opera)

Odd Opera presents Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Commons Theatre in Toronto

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote the music for the two-act opera Don Giovanni, with Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, that saw its debut in 1787. It is a story that, unfortunately, has not lost any of its relevancy over the centuries past — sexual violence, assault, emotional abuse, gender politics, and apologists for all of the above haven’t faded into history. In fact, these crimes are just as prevalent now, which makes Odd Opera‘s current production even that much more haunting.

The story of Don Giovanni is timeless. Don Giovanni (Diego Catalá, baritone) is the kind of guy that leaves enemies in his wake. He’s a murderer, rapist, emotional manipulator and an all around scumbag. To him, women are objects, conquests, and play things — he even says that he can’t control himself around them.

In his wake are Donna Anna (Stephanie DeCiantis, soprano) and her husband-to-be Don Ottavio (Patrick Jang, tenor), seeking revenge for the murder of Anna’s father. Zerlina (Holly Chaplin, coloratura soprano) and her fiance Masetto (Andrew Lieflander) are at odds as Zerlina has caught the attention of Don Giovanni’s ever-wandering eyes and roaming hands. Finally, there is Donna Elvira (Emily Klassen) who once fell in love with Don Giovanni and now, despite the insufferable way that he treats her, can’t seem to pull away from him.

What truly stands out in this performance are the talents. I was blown away by Klassen’s powerful voice and magnetic stage presence. As Donna Elvira, she was radiant in her anger. I was also stunned by Robert de Vrij, bass-barritone, who played Il Commendatore. de Vrij is known as one of the foremost bass-baritones in Canada and his talent is truly evident. And, despite my hatred towards the character, Catalá played up the sleazy nature of Don Giovanni wonderfully. The irony of his character sporting a Donald Trump toupee was certainly not lost on me. Pianist and musical director Adolfo De Santis was also superb in his accompaniment to the show.

My friend George, who accompanied me for the performance, has a background in opera, and though he had plenty of praise for the cast and talent, he did notice that a few of the notes got lost in the drama, particularly with DeCiantis. We both agreed that despite the talent in the cast, the production suffered on the technical side.

Don Giovanni is performed in Italian. A television screen off on stage left bore the subtitles — although following along with them may prove to be tricky. Depending on where you chose to sit, your sight lines to the screen weren’t always clear. Mine wasn’t. Also, the titles scrolled through rapidly, some had rather small print, and whoever was in charge of the titles had a tendency to shift back and forth through titles at random. It’s not the easiest thing to follow along with, especially if you’re relying on the titles to comprehend the action on stage. It would do you well to brush up on the story before attending, although the gist of it is fairly straight forward even if you don’t speak operatic Italian.

The performance takes place at the Commons Theatre, a rentable compact upstairs space. Compact is the notable term here — it’s a cramped space for both the cast and the audience. When the doors closed and the stage lighting came on, it got stiflingly hot. When attending, be sure to arm yourself with water and light layered clothing.

The set on stage was minimal — necessary due to the lack of space. The movable panels gave a vague sense of where the scenes were taking place, but often it wasn’t entirely clear. In the second act, I couldn’t tell Don Giovanni and Leporello (Mikhael Shemet, bass) were in a cemetery until Leporello mentioned a mausoleum in the distance. When the cast and chorus took the small stage at once, the panels felt awkward and seemed like they were in the way.

I also found their lighting choices confusing — the use of coloured lighting to flood the stage for certain scenes didn’t seem to fit and other times some of the actors’ faces were deep in shadow.

However, despite all the technical issues with Don Giovanni, the cast and crew here have done fine work with this show and within the limitations of the space. Their love and dedication to the material shows and for that I did enjoy watching the production. With their final performance tonight, I encourage you to take a trip into Little Italy at the end of your day to support independent opera.

Details:

  • Don Giovanni is playing at The Commons Theatre (578A College Street upstairs).
  • The final performance is April 6 2017 at 7:30 pm.
  • Ticket are $35, $25 for students and seniors (ID required).
  • Tickets can be purchased online or in person at the theatre.
  • Performance runs three hours with a 20 minute intermission.
  • Audience Advisory: This performance contains depictions of sexual violence, violence, coarse language, and strobe lights.

Photo of the cast provided by the company.

Leave a Reply