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Streamlined. Sassy. And sparkling with attitude, the Toledo Opera’s production of Don Giovanni, which opened Friday night in the Valentine Theatre, has found a stylish way to make a few points about Mozart and his greatest opera.
First: You can take Mozart out of the 18th Century. This version is set in 1950s Rome, at the dawn of the jaded period called la dolce vita, (although the homey costumes seem to have been imported from the countryside.)
Under newcomer Brian Deedrick’s inspired stage direction, every twist and turn of this big work’s elaborate tale of sexual intrigue, betrayal, forgiveness, and revenge was brought to active life via Toledo’s young and energetic cast and chorus.
Second: You cannot take the 18th Century out of Mozart.
And thank goodness for that. With Stefan Sanderling leading the Toledo Symphony and singers, every beautiful solo line, clever ensemble, and haunting harmony emerged clear. The orchestra was ever the artful propelling force for all the action.
Action there was, to be sure, as Giovanni, played with a youthful swagger by baritone Philip Cutlip, blazed a trail through the women of far and wide, leaving their men frustrated and scrapping among themselves.
With a rich voice, expressive delivery, and authoritative stage presence, Cutlip created a Teflon Don who dominated most scenes he appeared in, even as the target of accusation and recrimination.
Much the same dramatic and vocal power made soprano Jennifer Creswell impressive as Donna Elvira, the spurned woman come to claim her rightful role in Giovanni’s world. Ultimately the only woman to show a shred of compassion for Giovanni, Elvira is a complex character and the only female on stage with a conscience. Her colorful flexible voice and solid acting chops infused this classic role with enough humor to balance the pathos.
Also striking in her first Toledo appearance was Kathryn Lewek, a tiny soprano whose clear voice soared light and agile as a hummingbird, a clear yet rounded sound with surprisingly rich, dark depths. Also gifted as an actress, Lewek conjured a naif named Zerlina, at once manic and canny, gracefully flighty and impulsive. Here’s a newcomer to watch.
Her fiance, Masetto, played by Timothy Bruno, was half bumpkin but all would-be alpha male protecting his rights.
Joshua Stewart, the lone tenor in this cast of deep male and high female voices, also made his debut something to remember. As Don Ottavio, engaged to the fickle Donna Anna, he conveyed sincere tenderness and support with his shapely, warm voice.
Anna, portrayed by soprano Inna Dukach, had succumbed to Giovanni’s charms during the Overture. In the confusing aftermath, as Anna reconsidered the truth, her father, the powerful Commendatore (Charles Temkey), had been murdered by Giovanni.
In the role of Leporello, Giovanni’s resentful yet loyal manservant, Sean Cooper let his body do as much talking as his rich bass-baritone voice. With always-amusing comedy bits, lively footwork, and facial expressions, he revealed his character as the honest man who must suffer fools daily.
The set was austere yet rather elegant, classically themed backdrops with a variety of doorway entrances that never changed throughout the Superbowl-length production. Dramatic lighting designed by Michael Baumgarten washed the entire set in strong colors.