The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Guest reviewer Mikko Utevsky finds the Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” irresistibly seductive and brilliantly sung, a MUST-SEE show. Performances are tonight and Sunday afternoon.

April 26, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post is a review by guest blogger Mikko Utevsky (below). A freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the School of Music, Utevsky may be familiar to you as a loyal reader and commenter on this blog; as the former East High School student who founded and conducts the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO); and as a former member of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) who, talented and articulate, also blogged last summer about WYSO’s tour to Prague, Budapest and Vienna. The MAYCO concerts will be at 7:30 p.m. this year (NOT 7), both in Music Hall, on June 21 and August 9. He filed his review after attending the final dress rehearsal as part of the Madison Opera’s “Blog it! Tweet it! Night” Wednesday night. All color photos of “Don Giovanni” are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

By Mikko Utevsky

“What a barbarous appetite!”

What indeed! Don Giovanni, the famous seducer of Spain, has made conquests of more than 1,800 women, according to his servant’s catalogue. But in one of Mozart‘s latest and finest operas, three of them finally get the best of him, and he receives his comeuppance at the hands of a hellish visitor from his past.

In this wonderful production by the Madison Opera, one of the master’s most powerful works is realized to excellent effect.

The opera blurs the line between comic (“buffo”) and serious (“seria”) opera — two very distinct genres in the 18th century, each with its own rules.

Certain characters belong to each world: the servant, Leporello, is a basso buffo role straight out of comic opera, and the nobles – Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Don Ottavio – are entirely serious. Others, like the Don himself, have a foot in each world — he’s a nobleman, but not a terribly noble one, undermining the aristocratic sensibilities of opera seria.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 8

Whatever else you may think of him, this Don knows how to party. The centerpiece to his extravagant ballroom set is a large bed, on which he enters, and to which he later finds himself tied .

He’s also, as other advance reviews warned us, dangerously good-looking. He practically oozes seductive sexuality, and the women swarm around him like flies to honey – small wonder, looking like that! No opportunity is spared to have him shirtless, either: he works out something fierce.

But his sex appeal isn’t just visual. Kelly Markgraf has a voice to die for (or at least to lose your clothes for), and he shines both in solo numbers (especially the famous “Champagne Aria,” which in a YouTube video at the bottom) and ensembles, where his powerful baritone is always immediately present. And yes, that’s a hookah you see there.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 10

Don Juan’s seduction of Zerlina (Angela Mennin) in “La ci darem la mano” was alluring without going as far over the top as some productions, and his counterpart gave as good as she got.

Mannino’s portrayal of Zerlina was at once charmingly innocent and wickedly self-aware. (Fans of the long-running sci-fi program “Doctor Who” may find the characterization reminiscent of the Doctor’s current companion, Clara Oswald — or maybe that’s just me.) “Vedrai, carino” and “Batti, batti o bel Masetto” were both exquisitely turned and well-acted to boot.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 5

Her husband, Masetto (John Arnold, who played a compelling and hilarious Leporello last spring with the University Opera) was also well-characterized — in the final scene, they and Leporello migrate towards the Don’s abandoned dinner table rather than wax philosophical on his downfall. His “Ho capito, signor sì” was a tad mild for me (he’s stealing your wife, for goodness’ sake) but picked up nicely. His reactions during “Vedrai, carino” and the beating he receives before it were excellent, and the choreography for the latter was terrifyingly realistic even to an actor’s eye.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 4

Don Juan’s servant Leporello (Matt Boehler) was also top-notch, and looked appropriately worn ragged from chasing after the Don day and night. He and the Don are frequently heard together also, and they alternately blended and contrasted excellently. The “Catalog Aria” was well done: I heard a few impressed murmurs after “E la grande maestosa.”

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 3

The two Donnas — Anna and Elvira — were both well-represented as well; neither role is easy, and both singers met their challenges with robust tone and clear singing.

Elvira’s promises in “Ah, chi mi dice mai” to carve out the Don’s heart seemed a bit tame, but her characterization came to life quickly. Elvira (Caitlyn Lynch, below) is in some ways the hardest to sympathize with, since her good nature constantly overrides her better judgment where her erstwhile lover is concerned.

The grief of Donna Anna (Elizabeth Caballero) was convincingly rendered, though Don Ottavio’s responses always seem a bit wooden (a fault of the writing, not of Wesley Rogers’ lovely singing). His aria “Il mio tesoro” was lovely, and for once I didn’t wonder when we’d get back to the plot. Having heard him sing this, I almost wished “Dalla sua pace” hadn’t been cut. Almost.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 11

The orchestra’s playing was to its usual high standard: guest conductor Joseph Mechavich (below) elicited clean articulation and cogent phrasing from the group, accompanying deftly (if once or twice a bit too energetically for the singers, it can be forgiven). He conducted from the harpsichord, providing his own sophisticated and expressive continuo — not something one sees often, but done very well here.

Joseph Mechavich bw

Highlights of the whole opera, apart from those mentioned already, are the peasants’ wedding, noticeably more energetic and fun than anything with the Donnas who are somewhat dour – again no fault of the singers); the Don’s ball; his gluttonous dinner, complete with food fight; and the striking entrance of the Commendatore (Nathan Stark) risen from the dead, which I’ll not spoil for you.

madison opera don giovanni james gill No. 13

My only complaint about the staging is that occasionally it seems too dark — the singers’ faces fall into shadow for long periods, and I found myself wishing for footlights once or twice. The lighting apart from that is evocative and expressive.

I also wished for more complete supertitles. The set of translations used seemed a bit perfunctory: many lines were left out that would have made it easier to follow (and funnier!).

But the singing was uniformly excellent, as was the acting and the staging by Elise Sandell (below).

Elise Sandell

This Don Giovanni is one to see — sexy, dark, gorgeous, musically compelling, and brilliantly sung. What more could you ask?

The production (sung in Italian with English surtitles and running 3 hours with one 20-minute intermission) has two performances in Overture Hall of the Overture Center; on Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., respectively, in Overture Hall. For more information and tickets, call the Overture box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit:

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