‘Don’ has got it going on at the opera

Opera, as a medium, can be difficult for an audience to relate to because the performers must emote through singing pieces more praiseworthy for their technical skill than for their expressiveness, usually in a language the listeners don't understand (in this case, Italian).,”

The Florentine Opera Company's production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" is one of those rare performances that overcomes flaws in its original material to deliver a forceful impact.

Opera, as a medium, can be difficult for an audience to relate to because the performers must emote through singing pieces more praiseworthy for their technical skill than for their expressiveness, usually in a language the listeners don't understand (in this case, Italian). And far be it from this reviewer to criticize Mozart, but it's not easy to understand an opera written 200 years ago in light of the current social context (is what Don Giovanni calls seduction what we'd call rape?)

"Don Giovanni" is not exempt from these hindrances but manages to overcome them with several powerful performances and a stylish, intriguing set and lighting aesthetic.

A playful drama that dips equally into drama and comedy, "Don Giovanni" follows the titular womanizer as he attempts to woo a beautiful peasant girl, Zerlina, on the eve of her wedding. Too bad for him he is dogged by Donna Elvira, a spurned mistress who knows how to hold a grudge, and Donna Anna, whose father Don Giovanni kills when his seduction of Donna Anna goes awry.

Peter Volpe is more than capable as Don Giovanni, but it's a testament to the caliber of the Florentine's cast that he does not appear in the performance's most memorable scene. When Donna Anna (Laquita Mitchell) makes her fiancée, Don Ottavio, (Jonathan Boyd), promise to avenge her father's death, her voice is church bell-like in its clarity and intensity. Mitchell makes Donna Anna's pain and thirst for vengeance lucid despite hardly moving during the entire solo. In Don Ottavio's subsequent aria, Boyd expresses his character's conflict and uncertainty in much the same way. His body doesn't move, but his face, arms and voice make Don Ottavio's hesitation to murder, even for the woman he loves, transcend the barriers of language and time.

Set designer Kris Stone's Seville takes shape as a ramped stage with a fluidly-lit sky-like screen behind it. Stars and a giant, luminous moon move across the sky and at several points during the play, scrolls of fabric or paper unfurl from the ceiling and cascade to the ground. Noele Stollmack fills the opera's intimate scenes with a dreamy, underwater feel and its conflict scenes with a harsher, more steely light.

Operas like "Don Giovanni" survive by delicate treatment; productions must be obedient to the composer's original intent but offer audiences a new artistry as well. The Florentine Opera's production succeeds because it is far more faithful to Mozart than Don Giovanni was to Donna Elvira, and its performers and artists have enriched it with powerful, yet nuanced, deliveries.

The Verdict: ** 1/2