This is a strikingly successful production: handsomely costumed, splendidly sung and acted, and quite delightful to watch.
The production benefits, first and foremost, from a really excellent cast. The three female characters -- women variously overwhelmed by their involvement with the licentious Don -- are given neatly contrasted portrayals. Angela Mannino is a pert and peppy Zerlina, in the soubrette style. Caitlin Lynch is a vulnerable and waveringly anguished Donna Elvira. But Elizabeth Caballero, a veteran of past Madison Opera productions, is the real heavy hitter as Donna Anna, perhaps the most scarred of the Don's victims. This soprano has a voice of tremendous power, but it's one that can be used with a range of nuances.
Of the men, Nathan Stark may lack a powerful bass voice as the Commendatore, but he makes an awesome figure in the climactic finale of Act II. John Arnold, a fine UW Music School product, is an appropriately befuddled and manipulated Masetto, but he has a sympathetic manliness. As Don Ottavio, the patient fiancé of Donna Anna, Wesley Rogers deals gracefully with a role that is difficult to give much dimension. The title character is, paradoxically, almost a minor role, with few stellar moments, his important music either in ensembles or in recitatives. It is a role for which acting plays a significant part, and to a strong voice Kelly Markgraf brings wonderful physical presence and theatrical vitality. But, as can so often happen, the servant Leporello -- in many ways the only sensible character in the opera -- threatens to steal the show. Matt Boehler is both vocally solid (always heard in ensembles) and dramatically astute, creating a personality of sardonic wit.
Comedy was apparently a major concern of stage director Elise Sandell. She loses no opportunity to play up visual gags or details, and to slip extras into background action. Some distractions aside, this business keeps the production moving along vividly.
The set is just a little puzzling. It includes an unexplained backdrop of a giant rose, constantly bathed in changing lights, and arch-unit flats that are moved about constantly, not always to clear purposes. Scene transitions can be swiftly managed, but are sometimes awkward for all that. A very clumsy glitch troubled the transition into the big finale on Friday evening, when a fence and gate suffered a mismanaged lift into the flies.
Guest conductor Joseph Mechavich does not bring a notable stamp of his own to the production, but he led the very able orchestra in a strong contribution to the musical picture.
Mention should be made of some rather arbitrary cuts in the score. In Act I, the aria "Dalla sua pace," one of Don Ottavio's mere two, is dropped. In Act II, the Don's song dispersing Masetto's gang is oddly omitted, while in the cemetery scene the Don's teasing of Leporello about romancing one of the servant's own girlfriends is dropped, missing a chance for a good laugh.
However one may pick at things, this is a strikingly successful production: handsomely costumed, splendidly sung and acted, and quite delightful to watch, a great opera presented with full realization of its musical and dramatic possibilities. Once again, Madison Opera has given us a production that any major opera house could offer with pride.
Don Giovanni will be performed again this Sunday, April 28, at 2:30 p.m.