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If I Have to Sing, I Want to be Leporello

April 29, 2013

Author Gustave Flaubert once said that Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the ocean were God’s three greatest creations. Having seen the play and played in the sea, we dropped into Madison Opera’s recent production of Mozart’s masterwork to see if the author of Madame Bovary was accurate on all counts.

It would seem that Flaubert knew a bit what he was talking about, but he failed to comment on how funny Don Giovanni can be. One would think the tale of the world’s greatest lover ultimately being dragged to hell for repeatedly violating most if not all of the Seven Deadly Sins would not set off so much as a wry chortle. But Mozart apparently knew that there is always a little light within the darkness, order amid the chaos, and more than a few knee-slappers threading the tale of rape, murder and anything but a bid for redemption.

Add to that a food fight, more than one confetti snowstorm, spooky dry-ice clouds billowing from an open tomb and a title character so ripped that he may simply have been augmenting his day job with Chippendale’s and you have a pretty lively production of what is considered one of the world’s ten greatest operas.

Central to the humor is the role of Leporello (baritone Matt Boehler), Don Giovanni’s wiley servant cast in the same mold as many of Shakepeare’s servants, henchmen and lackeys. It’s through Leporello that we have an objective eye as audience members, a tempered insight into the doings both Don Giovanni (baritone Kelly Markgraf) and the nobles and commoners victimized by his exploits.

Leporello interprets both the humor and horror in the opera’s unfolding, ultimately burying his face in a delicious-looking cake at the opera’s climax. I would want to play Leporello if I could sing. And if I could understand and rhythmically repeat lengthy passages in Italian.

As for Madison Opera’s production, both cast and crew did an outstanding job bringing the tale to life. Dueling sopranos Elizabeth Caballero (Donna Anna), Caitlyn Lynch (Donna Elvira) and Angela Mannino (Zerlina) all did fine jobs in their respective roles, more than once creating a chorus of angelic voices to complement the play’s dark doings. Guest conductor Joseph Mechavich marshaled the talents of Madison Symphony Orchestra members to good effect, and Mozart’s memorable melodies were beautifully interpreted.

In fact, there are only two complaints. The scenic design, courtesy of the Virginia Opera, was functional, but not especially fanciful and did not live up the scenery from past Madison Opera productions. However, lighting designer Ben Zamora’s subtle shadings of the play’s interesting abstract backdrop brought both intrigue and pathos to the proceedings.

As to the final appearance of Il Comendatore (Nathan Stark), who rose from the dead to drag Don Giovanni to his ultimate demise, there certainly are images more chilling than an old man in a nightshirt.

But those are minor points in a production that otherwise pleases on all levels. Madison Opera once again deserves kudos for its interpretation.

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