Review: Don Giovanni (Opera Atelier)

Photo of Miireille Asselin and Olivier Laquerre in Don GiovanniOpera Atelier presents the classic Don Giovanni at the Ed Mirvish Theatre

Opera Atelier’s fall production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Ed Mirvish Theatre is a well-known opera by perhaps the most well-known classical composer. So, I thought it would be a good one for me to see, since I know almost nothing about the art form. I was hoping it would be an accessible introduction for a relative novice like me and I’m happy to say it was. Don Giovanni has something for everyone – lovely music, energetic dance, beautiful costumes and sets, and a variety of dramatic styles. My guest and I had a great time.

Don Giovanni is based on the story of Don Juan and tells the tale of a young womanizer whose flouting of conventional morality catches up with him. Over the course of a single day, Don Giovanni seduces a young woman, kills her father, escapes the wrath of a former lover, seduces a young peasant girl, hosts a ball, and is visited by the ghost of the man he has killed. In the end, he gets his comeuppance and descends to hell tormented by demons.

I don’t think that revelation needs a spoiler alert. With classic stories, whether opera or drama, I recommend reading a plot synopsis ahead of time. It definitely helped me understand what was going on, especially because the opera is sung in Italian. English surtitles projected at the top of the stage helped too. Plot didn’t really seem to be the point anyway. The story is just a vehicle for the singing and dancing.

Judged by contemporary standards, Don Giovanni’s behaviour towards women is reprehensible. He may love them, but he certainly doesn’t see them as human beings or as individuals. Rather they are interchangeable objects to be used for his own pleasure and then discarded. Yet the production still felt light-hearted and comic to me.

In the program, director (and Opera Atelier co-Artistic Director) Marshall Pynkoski highlights the link between Don Giovanni and commedia dell’arte. Much like how commedia dell’arte features standard characters and tropes, many of the scenes in Don Giovanni seemed familiar. The fight scenes, the peasants dancing, and even the haunted statue that comes to life were all things I had seen before. That’s not a complaint, it gave me an entry point into the production.

Although I am not particularly knowledgeable about classical music, I enjoyed the performances very much. Carla Huhtanen as Donna Elvira was my favourite. She switched effortlessly between righteous indignation and anger at Don Giovanni’s betrayal and inability to resist his charms. Mireille Asselin as Zerlina was charming, sweet and loving to her beloved Masetto but refusing to be bossed around or taken lightly. Stephen Hegedus as Leporello, Don Giovanni’s servant, was very funny as he mocked his master, often parroting his words behind his back.

The sets and costumes were colourful and convincingly created a scene in 18th Century Italy. The dancing choreography, featuring the artists of Atelier Ballet, was also appropriate for the time and setting, with ballroom dances and folk dances in the round.

The only complaint my guest and I had was that sometimes it was difficult to hear the singers over the orchestra. In particular, when two or more of the characters were singing at once, the lower voice disappeared.

All in all, I would recommend Don Giovanni even if you haven’t seen a lot of opera. It’s a fun and energetic performance that kept my attention. I might even be interested in going to the opera again.

Details:

  • Don Giovanni is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria Street) until November 9, 2019.
  • Remaining performances are November 2 and 8 at 7:30 pm, November 3 at 3:00 pm, and November 9 at 4:40 pm.
  • Tickets are $39-$194 and are available online.

Photo of Mireille Asselin and Olivier Laquerre by Bruce Zinger.