Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

(Please) Drag Me to Hell

August 14, 2009

Lucas Meachem and Susanna Phillips
Photo: Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera 2009

I’m sad to report that Santa Fe Opera’s current revival of Don Giovanni may be the worst production of a Mozart opera I’ve ever seen. It is certainly the worst Don Giovanni I’ve ever seen. In fact, its probably the greatest disservice to Don Juan since Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando made Don Juan de Marco in 1994. Of course, that film did have a Bryan Adams song to recommend it. I should make it clear that I don’t necessarily see this production's failure as having anything to do with the cast or with conductor Lawrence Renes. This was the kind of young cast Santa Fe likes to put in its longer-running popular summer fare and I rather liked Lucas Meachem in the title role. He can’t quite pull of the Tim McGraw look that he and Matthew Rose, who plays Leporello, are asked to contend with, but I really don’t think anybody could. Meachem is attractive and can muster the arrogance of a lothario on stage. Of course, the rest of the cast, including Kate Lindsey (Zerlina), Susanna Phillips (Donna Elvira), Elza van den Heever (Donna Anna), were all attired in late Victorian garb for one of those non-specific hodgepodge looks that I typically like but here just seemed lazy. Again the singing was uniformly solid and enjoyable though the acting seemed unfocused with zero direction or guidance. Everybody had found some shtick of their own and they were sticking with it from Zerlina's homage to Nellie Oleson to Leporello's repeated regret over not electing to have the V8 when he was able to.

Director Chas Rader-Shieber and his design team have created perhaps the most unsexy, unmenacing Don Giovanni imaginable. They take Don Giovanni as nothing more than a comedy, a point not lost on the audience that openly laughed as Giovanni is dragged to hell in the final scene. Yes, there is ample comedy in this opera, but there’s much more too it than that. For all intents and purposes this Giovanni might as well have been Cosi Fan Tutte. The set consists of a wall of many doors and windows suggestive of an urban street, again including several coexisting, but unspecified time periods. The walls move back and forth in two halves and there are a couple of trees that get pushed around. In the final scene the stage is filled with cabinets that eventually act as light sources when opened, and one serves as the entry point for the protagonist into hell. Otherwise, there is nothing going on and nothing for anyone to do but stand around and gesticulate a little bit. Oh, and everything is painted red. Even the trees. I suppose this is a production that might appeal to someone…who…really likes red. Otherwise it’s stone cold dead and seriously misjudges the non-comic content of this particular opera.



Well, that's too bad. Did you see the SF Don Giovanni with Mariuz Kwiecien?
You know it. Yet another reason why this one was so lackluster. I loved the McVicar production and van den Heever.

I've seen Schrott sing Giovanni as well - twice in LA and once in London with his soon to be wife Netrebko as well as Ana Maria Martinez. Schortt poured wine all over his bare chest in that one which at the time I thought was ridiculous, but am now having second thoughts about the whole maneuver.

On another Santa Fe note. I went over to the Collected Works book store while here. After reading your post about your visit there, I was tempted to ask for help with another well known 20th century author besides Maugham just for the fun of stumping the lackluster youth of America. But I held back.
Lol, you should have asked for Maugham to see if they've trained the staff since I asked.

There's a great used bookstore in Albuquerque, on Central near the University, called Bird Song Books. I'd run out of books (took 2 for 4 days), so I went there on my way out of town and picked up a copy of The Moonstone.

You bet, about the McVicar production. That was the most successful of the DG productions I've seen; it got the balance between comedy and drama just right, and FOR ONCE they had a truly menacing and attractive singer in the lead.
I know this comment is late, but here it is "my sentiments, exactly." I thought I was the only one who laughed when the commandatore appeared in a kitchen cabinet.
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