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Comedy, not tragedy, takes center stage

Mozart described his opera "Don Giovanni" as a tragi-comedy. The current production at Modesto's Townsend Opera Players emphasizes the comic part of the equation.

The result is that, while making the opera more accessible for the modern audience, the opera loses much of the urgency of its underlying moral tone.

The drama of an unrepentant, murdering philanderer being snatched off to Hell for his transgressions is a traditional theme. Don Giovanni personifies the sexually attractive male without remorse or scruples, and he leaves behind a trail of tragedy.

Mozart condemns him, but he accepts his existence as one of life's unfortunate realities and believes that love can surmount some of the wreckage the scoundrel has wrought.

TOP's production is sung in English; this offers a mixed blessing. You can understand some of the words, but while repeated phrases necessitated by the melodies can sound charming in Italian, they often seem just plain repetitious in English. And some of the areas don't seem so mellifluous when translated. The delightful song "Batti, batti" works better than "Hit me, hit me" with its blackjack connotation.

In the title role, Robert Stafford is excellent in appearance, dramatic presence and vocal ability. He convincingly conveys the rogue's fatal charm. In the same class we find Samuel Smith as the Don's much put-upon servant, Leporello.

The other major male role, Don Ottavio, is sung by William Gorton. It's a thankless part, poorly conceived in the libretto and with fiendishly long phrases to navigate in his major aria "Il mio tesoro." Gorton makes the best of the role dramatically, and his aria offered him no major problems. His vocal quality, while powerful, has a certain nasality that can give the tone a rough edge as the volume increases. ::: Advertisement :::

Among the three female leads, the role of the peasant girl, Zerlina, comes through with considerable dramatic and vocal success as performed by Jennifer Muhawi. Leslie Sandefur, as Donna Anna, has a lovely vocal quality, but like Tracy Shea, who sings Donna Elvira, she gets all the notes but does not demonstrate the kind of vocal authority necessary to really sell these very difficult areas. Shea also had a few intonation lapses in the coloratura passages.

In supporting roles, Tim Witherspoon delivered a fine Masetto, and John Gorman made the most of his two limited, but very dramatic, appearances. The Camarata singers capably made up the rest of the 22-member cast.

The orchestra could have used a few more violins and occasionally a little less volume. Mostly, however, it offered a very workmanlike support. It was ably conducted by TOP general director Erik Buck Townsend, who was also responsible for most other aspects of the production.

The set was serviceable, and the costumes, except for Donna Elvira, who seemed to spend most of her life in her nightshirt, were appropriate.

Saturday, the opening night of the three-hour-plus opera had a certain impromptu quality in the light cues. The set changes were all too audible when the soloists were singing in front of the curtain and the second finale didn't seem to finalize. But these little lapses should all be cleared up by the next performance.

Full Credit For This Story Goes To: RecordNet

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