By CB Adams

Waiting for Winter Opera’s production of “Don Giovanni,” I was reminded of the forward to Milton Cross’ “Complete Stories of the Great Operas,” in which he begins, “This is a book of stories – the stories of the great and enduring operas…Some of them have become so familiar that I return to them each year, almost as one returns each season to the Christmas story.” Just a week or so before Thanksgiving and the holiday season, Winter Opera’s timing for a production of “Don Giovanni” seemed perfect for a return – Christmas-like – to one of opera’s (and Mozart’s) great and (and greatly rendered) stories.

Before the opening notes of the overture, it was clear that this production would hew closely to a traditional interpretation (kudos to stage director John Stephens) of this work with an understated, yet architecturally appropriate, set (kudos to Scott Loebl, scenic designer). There were the requisite Corinthian columns, graceful arches and stone fountain – providing the neutral setting for the intricate, sublime story to follow.

As the orchestra began the overture to the three-hour performance to come (under the confident and sure baton of conductor Scott Schoonover), I was reminded of how these early, foreboding chords – repeated in the last act – symbolize the fate that awaits Don Giovanni.

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I was reminded, too, of that Mozart’s original title was “Il Dissoluto Punito, Ossia il Don Giovanni” (“The Rake Punished, or Don Giovanni”). From the opening, this production faithfully unfurls the looping story of Don Giovanni as well as explores the dynamics of power, control and fate – with its major events presented at the beginning and searing conclusion. 

The dynamic, muscular-voiced Robert Mellon was a winning Leporello, the Don’s youthful, sometimes blustery servant. Mellon brought his character’s famous register aria – “Madamino, il catalogo è questo” – confidently and humorously to life.

One of the strengths of Winter Opera’s production is its treatment of women in the story. Gina Galati’s portrayal of Donna Elvira was exceptional, especially her affecting, poignant phrasing in “Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata.”

Raphaella Medina provided a sweet-voiced and beguiling Zerlina, especially during “Batti, batti o bel Masetto,” a love song-aria (with Mark Hosseini as Masetto) beloved for its teasing trills. Medina also paired very well with the strong performance of Jacob Lassetter as Don Giovanni, for a hugely satisfying performance of the duet “La si darem la mano.” Throughout, Lassette’s portrayal demonstrated tremendous range as well as nuance demanded by Mozart’s composition.  

Nathan Whitson’s strong bass more than met the imposing demands of the character Commendatore. His performance was equal parts stentorian, imperious and stone-like (as the singing statue).

The singers were well-adorned, thanks to the costume design by Jen Blum-Tatara and wigs/makeup by Jessica Dana.

Winter Opera’s “Don Giovanni” played at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center on November 17 and 19. The season continues with Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” January 19 and 21, 2024. More information is available at the Winter Opera website.

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