Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Don Giovanni (Fully Staged Opera)

I've said it before (and before and before) that opera isn't really an art form I connect with, I think the chief concern is that it's a bit of sensory overload -- I don't think I'd feel the same way about opera sung in English as opposed to the de regur Italian, but as no one seems to be doing that, at least in Cleveland, I can't say definitively.

That said you may be wondering why I plopped down $225 for something I don't really love...the short version is I bought it much by reflexive accident--not that I got dates mixed up or something like that, just that I've gotten in the habit of buying my next Cleveland Orchestra ticket before the preceding week's concert and I didn't think to check exactly what I was buying a ticket for until I had already mentally committed myself.

My only experience with Don Giovanni was Opera Cleveland's production of the same in late 2009..and it's funny, after I typed all of that to go back and read my thoughts from back then... because that post began eerily similarly.

Generally, The Cleveland Orchestra's production compares well -- the voices were wonderfully clear, the quality of the music was no less than I'd expect from the orchestra during any normal concert despite the condensed size and position in the makeshift pit in front of the stage. Singer and musician blended beautifully. On stage, the production benefited with a collaboration with Verb Ballets.

The production doesn't take itself too seriously (to wit, among others some decidedly not-1700s dance moves and a very interesting choice of weapon) but also avoids falling into the realm of slapstick. Also a notable plus to this performance -- though one shouldn't be surprised -- is that the musicians who appear on stage at a couple points during the performance are real musicians really playing real instruments. Though a small item, the use of fake instruments that weren't being played didn't sit well with me in the Opera Cleveland production.

Unfortunately, though in addition to my standard complaint about the surtitles board* the stage is more distracting and ineffective than anything else: A strong rake, angularly patterned floor, combined with legs and valences that have a bold wave effect lead me to give myself a little bit of a headache during the first few minutes trying to figure out if the rake was real or an optical illusion -- a question I returned to many times throughout the evening, and this added distraction didn't help my quest to follow the action or plot, let alone both. The first act was quite funny and well paced; the pacing of the second act, however, seemed to drag to the point where I was fighting a persistent yawn and becoming a bit fidgety, both most likely to the chagrin of the others in my box.

Catching me a bit off guard there are quite a large number of clothes being left on stage. Both male and female... who knew Mozart could be so racy?

Lastly, the program book must be mentioned. While The Cleveland Orchestra's program books usually contain a wealth of information on the weekend's concert to provide context, history, and background, the assemblage for Don Giovanni was amazingly comprehensive 29 pages covering synopsis, timelines, the librettist, the characters and real-life inspirations and not including singers biographies.

If you haven't tried opera before I'd encourage you to try it once -- and this is a pretty good way to try it. Additional performances on March 24th (Tuesday) and 27th (Sunday).

(Music: Wolfganga Amade Mozart; Libretto: Lorenzo Da Pointe; Conducted: Franz Welser-Most; Staged: Julia Mathes; Set: John S. Bukala; Lighting: Christopher Shick; Don Giovanni: Simon Keenlyside; Leporello: Ruben Drole; Donna Anna: Eva Mei; The Commendatore: Alfred Muff; Don Ottavio, Shawn Mathey; Donna Elvira: Malin Hartelius; Zerlina: Martina Jankova; Masetto: Reinhard Mayr; With the Cleveland Orchestra Opera Chorus and Verb Ballets.)

* To my "Sensory Overload" point: why does it seem to be opera's universal practice to place the surtitles that it is impossible visually track the singers and action while also following the plot? I eventually gave up on trying to follow the plot, which in all fairness could be part of the reason the second act seemed to drag (since I no longer had any clue what was going on).

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