Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

A Letter to Three Giovannis -
Part 3, Los Angeles

December 10, 2007

Big Man on Campus
Photo: Robert Millard/LAO 2007
LA Opera’s current revival of Don Giovanni comes in a season of revivals, borrowed productions, and half-baked ideas that makes it seem like the company is lying in wait for something bigger and better. But it turns out that this is one moment in the company's recent history that might be worth revisiting. This is not only a show, but a star, Erwin Schrott, we’ve seen before. In fact Schrott’s last appearance here in 2003, following his Operalia win, predates much of his international acclaim as the Don of choice throughout the world. Now of course the story has been repeated enough times in enough places that he has become one of the uber-hot faces of the new-sexy-opera-star-myth. Not that he isn’t hot, it’s just that the glamorous opera star is not at all a “new” invention. In fact, Schrott’s performance in LA is actually sexier than it has been in other places like London earlier this year specifically because Mariusz Trelinski’s visually sharp staging leaves a little more to the imagination than a half-naked Schrott pouring wine all over his chest at dinner. (Thank you Ms. Zambello.) Schrott is a master and he is great here throughout and worth the experience in his own right.

But there is plenty else here that is worthwhile. The minimal staging is both colorful and witty without being corny. It is all neon lights, wild hair, and fog and it is a lot of fun. Of course, Mark Swed and the editors of the LA Times remind us that these are “pomo” clichés. (Quaint of them to revive that term which went out about the same time as A Different World. Note to LA Times – if Jasmine Guy can move on, so can you.) But frankly, I’ll take “pomo” clichés over the far more prevalent 19th century ones that form the cornerstone of 90% of American opera productions. I can also attest that after seeing most of the dark-and-stormy-night stagings that appear to be the standard these days, LA should be glad to have something at least a little different. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent and also contains many leading performers of their respective roles, including a magnificent Charles Castronovo as Don Ottavio, Kyle Ketelsen as Leporello, Alexandra Deshorties as Donna Anna, and Maria Kanyova as Donna Elvira. Ironically, the cast was almost a dream team combination of the casts from London and San Francisco earlier this year with the notable exceptions of Ms. Netrebko and Ms. Martinez. But perhaps the best evidence for the strength of the cast overall is this – despite a staging with relatively little in the way of props or stage business, not once did this production feel like a stand-and-deliver opera. Behold, a group that actually has mastered some acting as well as singing. Harmut Haenchen led a not-at-all-shabby performance from the orchestra if not the most historically detailed one ever.

So after this year and all these Giovannis, what have we learned? Erwin Schrott is fantastic and knows how to be sexy with a shirt on. David McVicar rocks. Opera tickets in London are really, really expensive for Americans right now. And above all this - Mozart kicks Puccini's ass - any time, anywhere. If you're here in LA, you've got two more chances to see Schrott and company on stage December 12 and 15. Do the right thing.


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