Thursday, April 24, 2014

Clubbing with the Don at BU

Don Juan in clubland, prior to Hell. Photos: Oshin Gregorian

Local opera fans know that performances at BU's Opera Institute can dazzle, so I wasn't surprised to see close to a full house for their Don Giovanni last weekend. And I think the crowd left satisfied, although this version of Mozart's masterpiece was a bit more uneven than some Opera Institute productions I've seen.

Not that BU didn't pull out all the production stops. Director Daniel Pelzig updated the setting to modern clubland, and BU's student designers went to town with the concept (see above); Andrea Nice devised a set of shimmering curtains and high-tech black, while Jessica Elliott drew all manner of dramatic effects from pulsing lines of LEDs.

And Pelzig's staging was always fluid and inventive; but alas, the club scene can't quite encompass the full dimensions of Mozart and Da Ponte's grand philanderer. Somehow the directorial concept seemed to diminish the Don into a generic club dude - and a crudely brutal one at that (which meant that Donnas Elvira and Anna were subtly diminished, too). Perhaps this was understandable given what dating women must contend with in the millennium; these days Donna Anna would be "seduced" with rufies, and the morning after would be deleting dick pics from her smart phone. But that only means that millennial date culture (or do I mean rape culture?) is of a lower order than Mozart's anti-hero demands - or deserves.

For in the end, if this great rake is to hold our attention - especially our moral attention - he must seem more than just Tucker Max in Armani. (Because who cares if Tucker Max goes to Hell?)  And to be honest, Pelzig didn't dare to give his concept its full due; surely a modern-day Don Juan would lure his conquests with lines of coke or hits of E - which could have made for some very intriguing duets! But everyone in BU clubland for some reason seemed to be just saying no on performance night.

Isaac Bray woos Kelly Vigil in Don Giovanni.
Still, occasionally the concept resonated, and certainly the performers understood their roles! At Friday's performance, baritone Isaac Bray made a convincingly arrogant lothario (he certainly had the looks for the part), and his vocal performance was solid and secure, if not always perfectly projected. His many love interests were likewise appealing; as Donna Anna, soprano Kelley Hollis made the biggest impression of the night with a glorious tone that was always glowing, if marred by a few intonation problems at the top of her range.

And while Hollis took the singing honors, Audrey Hurley took the acting ones, with a brilliantly witty turn as the spurned Donna Elvira; Hurley is also blessed with a strong lower range, so if she can learn to soften her upper register, she will be an operatic force to reckon with. 

To be honest, however, I may have been most taken with the singing in the supporting roles: Zack Rabin brought a burnished tone and solid comic chops to Leporello, while Benjamin Taylor and Kelly Vigil, gifted singers both, all but stole the show as the troubled couple Masetto and Zerlina.  And I must mention one non-student performance: BU eminence James Demler made a memorably commanding Commendatore; indeed, I've rarely seen a finale to Don Giovanni that chilled quite as deeply as this one. When Demler's stone fingers gripped Bray's haughty hand, the fires of Hell suddenly felt palpable, although somehow freezing cold.

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