Michael Roemer, left, and John Arnold in University Opera's <i>Don Giovanni</i>.
So ample is the crop of talented students in the music school's vocal program that six of the opera's eight roles could be double-cast. What I heard at the Sunday matinee represented not the second cast in any pejorative sense, but the alternate one. People I heard from who attended this and the Friday evening performance generally agreed that the two casts were quite comparable.
Two roles are taken by the same two singers in all three performances. In the title role, Michael Roemer sings and acts with agility, though his baritone range lacks the degree of bass heft it should have. And, handsome as a Hollywood star, he just seems a little too youthful to be wicked roué of such long standing. Bass Benjamin Schultz's dark voice fits the aged Commendatore, turned into the menacing statue.
Of the Sunday cast, Yohan Kim has an agreeable bass-baritone voice and a certain charm as Leporello, but he did not capture fully the endearing rascality of this most fascinating of all the opera's characters. Written for a lyric tenor voice, Don Ottavio often is turned into an insipid personality. Alex Gmeinder made him more manly and assertive than usual, with a powerful tenor voice that does, however, seem a tad too meaty, and in need of some vibrato trimming. Masetto is a cloddish peasant, but he can be made sympathetic; baritone Eric Larson, while looking a little too incongruously Scandinavian, at least rendered him plausible.
The singers cast as the three women who react to the Don's exploitation came off very well. Cassie Glaeser has a strong dramatic soprano voice which she used with steady effectiveness. To Donna Elvira, Chelsie Propst brought a contrastingly light, lyric soprano: clear, and yet often conveying the feeling of immanent precariousness. Lydia Eiche's Zerlina was particularly impressive: pinpoint security and handsome tone, perfectly apt in her two arias.
What struck me was that many of these singers, instead of wearing down towards the end of this long opera, seemed to reach their admirable peak in their great later arias: Gmeinder in Ottavio's "Il mio tesoro," Propst in Elvira's magical "Mi tradi," and Glaeser in Anna's "Non mi dir".
All along the way, conductor James Smith sustained energy and clarity, up to his highest standards, with a really good student orchestra in the pit.
Five years ago, program director William Farlow produced a disgraceful trashing of this opera. Whether or not as intended penance this time, he now achieved a smoothly consistent staging, using a very simple set. Switching the opera from 18th-century Spain to "Europe" in 1810 served no evident purpose (except perhaps to reflect costume availabilities).
But, reveling in the luxury of abundant singing talent, Farlow organized a thoroughly creditable student production, in the best sense of the term: stylistically faithful to the original, and clearly a valuable experience for the performers as they perfect their skills
Final performance, with the Friday cast, on Tuesday, March 20 at UW Music Hall.