Top-Notch Giovanni swoons the Bronx and Long Island

The Bronx Opera boasts another Mozart masterpiece: Don Giovanni
Reviews by Christopher Sirota and Robert Greene

IN THE BRONX: Lovinger Theatre @ Lehman College • Fri., May 13 & Sat., May 14 @ 7:30 p.m. Tkts: $15 – $30 (800) 838-3006 • http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com/EVENT/130913

IN HEMPSTEAD, LONG ISLAND: John C. Adams Playhouse @ Hofstra University • Fri., May 20 @ 8 p.m. & Sat., May 21 @ 2 p.m. Tkts: $30 • (516) 463-6644 (ask about discounts for senior citizens, students & others) to purchase tickets from Hofstra’s web site, cut and paste the URL:http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?orgid=416&schedule=list

The audience was confidently lead through the funny but darkly-twisted plot of The Bronx Opera’s presentation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, laughing out loud frequently during what did not at all feel like a three-hour opera. Abundant action with focus and crisp characters, Nicole Lee Aiossa directed these famed characters and beloved music with aplomb. Performed in well-crafted, often witty English, the cast successfully kept the momentum going, with not a lull experienced. Vocally, the donnas filled the theater much more than their counterparts, but all cast members sang well enough to bring life to their characters. The chorus animated the stage with both voice and movement.

Jason Plourde’s twisted, scheming visage as the lecherous Giovanni was magnetic. Brace Negron’s Bolgeresque Leporello was truly hilarious. He and Plourde ping-ponged perfectly as odd master-servant companions. Colorful, both musically and theatrically, were the peasant couple played by Sara Fanucchi and Scott Lindroth.  Stand-out solo’s include Hannah Rosenbaum as Donna Elvira and Robert Hughes as Don Ottavio, although Hughes seemed a bit restrained in other scenes.

Eric Kramer meticulously batoned the orchestra through the plot, getting as excited or disturbed by each scene along with the audience – adding to the fun. Some exuberance often drowned out a cantante’s lower notes.  The finale, full of sepulchral smoke, eerie lighting and demonic dancers, was icing on this 18th century cake (still fresh, for sure!).

This opera lover is now a convert to BxO. I look forward to enjoying more from this group in future productions.

Christopher Sirota is a performer and a cinematographer as well as independent reviewer, having performed off-Broadway and regionally. Recent achievements include film sequences for Genesis Repertory.  Probably not unlike many, he fell in love with opera, years ago, thanks to Puccini’s Tosca.

Let’s here it for innovation. It’s more than a trend for classical works to be re-imagined with a modern twist. This keeps material fresh and relevant. Sometimes however, there are pieces that are meant to be savored just as they are. Mozart’s Don Giovanni is one of them. The Bronx Opera has given us a gift: a production in lavish period costumes, striking scenery, and a full orchestra and chorus. Sitting in the steeply-racked Lovinger Theater one can easily transport themselves back to the time when Wolfgang himself conducted.  It’s plot – if modernized would be too dark with too many health concerns for today’s standards – tells of a lecherous rouge and his mercenary servant and their exploit toying with the fairer sex. At the onset, we see that this amoral pair is not afraid to even kill for their pleasure. Setting in motion a hunt for these two upper class swine.

As the title character, Jason Coffey was never nefarious. He gave us the arrogant aire of the less-than-nobleman who knows his coin buys him time and pleasure. This allowed us to never hate Giovanni but watch with a bit of envy. In excellent voice, Coffey strutted and leered, swaggered and posed, and never lost our attention. A wise choice. Jack Anderson White gave us an hilarious manservant Leporello. White was smart enough to know that even servants have hierarchy and gave an educated wit to this clownish role that elevated his performance. He and Coffey were an excellent pair. White’s deep tones gave us a vocal rim-shot for many humorous lines.

The supporting cast were all well-played and sung. Rob Joubert as the Commendatore gave us a finale worth waiting for, while Elizabeth Perryman, Steven Wallace, and Catherine Meyers contributed arias of great strength and passion. Natalie Megules and Rich Bozic as a hapless peasant couple caught in the grip of the nasty noble lightened things but contributed equal command.

Nicole Lee Aiossa directed a classic production, cleverly winking at other classic style in the meanwhile. The appearance of the deceased Commendatore reminisced many a classic horror film, while the omnipresence of three eerie damsels  (Emily Edwards, Robin Higginbotham, and Caitlin Trainor) permitted the audience hypothesis of everything from Greek tragedy to Macbethian witches. Both inspired touches.

Ben Spierman’s translation was to-the-point and kept the action digestible, Arthur Oliver’s striking period-style costumes were simply excellent; Meganne George’s stone pillars became houses and graves effortlessly, and Tyler Learned lighting accented the whole thing in period ambiance.

Bob Greene is a former playwright and retired history professor. He’s had works presented in New York and regionally since 1978. Today, he writes for several online services.

Andrew Liebowitz is the staff photographer for WrightGroupNY

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