Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Hell Bent for Leather

October 31, 2010

Paulo Szot as Don Giovanni at the Dallas Opera Photo: Karen Almond/Dallas Opera 2010

Yes, Paulo Szot won the wet T-shirt contest in Dallas Opera’s current production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Or at least he should have. To be honest there is no wet T-shirt contest in this production, although there is a somewhat out of place splashing in the fountain scene in Act I. To be honest this decidedly unsexy production could have used one. In fact it could have used any number of things. By today’s standards, this import from Washington National Opera to Dallas, directed and designed by John Pascoe, is mighty tame. No heroin shoot-ups, neon lights, or police raids here. It’s just shoulder pads, mullet hair, and lots of fabric. The period is non-specific with Zerlina in her wedge espadrilles like she’s on her way to Studio 54 while others are in something approaching 19th-century garb. At times I’d swear Dona Elvira was channeling Kelly McGillis with her stretch pants, trench coat and multi-colored bustiers. Actually, the period non-specific take on the opera is not without its merits. It did manage a dark and creepy look and there were some interesting set elements including the Commendetore’s funeral. I also felt Pascoe did an excellent job of clarifying the who-knows-what-when plot elements in Act I that are sometimes a bit confusing. But I was most bothered by the difficulty managing the dramatic aspects of the story in favor of the comic ones. A lot of bad pizza comes up in this work, but Pascoe and his team more often than not glaze over it instead of milking the natural laughs to their fullest when they arise.

The cast was an interesting array of singers. At the center, as mentioned above, was Tony-winner Paulo Szot in the title role. He’s one attractive man and proved earlier this year he can carry an opera like Shostakovich’s The Nose, which he did for the Metropolitan Opera. In this season he’s singing a lot more opera on a lot more stages around the world and quite a bit of Mozart. I had mixed feelings about him here. He has a lot of stage presence, no doubt, but he was a bit underpowered in this particular cast and was not helped by the giant angular costumes he spent most of the evening swimming in. I felt he got a little croony at times as well. His Leporello, Mirco Palazzi, was much more engaging with his puckish performance and his round even tone. He was making his American debut in Dallas, and I’m hoping I get to hear more out of him soon. The women in the cast included Claire Rutter as Donna Anna, Georgia Jarman as Donna Elvira, and Ailyn Pérez as Zerlina. All of them had their moments. Rutter has a big voice and went after her arias with abandon. Jarman was probably the most consistently enjoyable to listen to, though she, like everyone else, was hampered by some fairly difficult costumes. The orchestra under Romanian conductor Nicolae Moldoveanu gave a solid contemporary performance of the score that kept moving and had a decent dramatic range. Of course, the house was by no means full on Saturday night, given the holiday weekend and game three of the World Series (which the Rangers won). But luckily there are two performances left before the show closes. It’s a good opportunity to see this great opera and Szot in the flesh if you haven’t had a chance. So, if you're in Dallas next weekend, check it out.

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