DON GIOVANNI – It’s smart and new at San Francisco Opera

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Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

San Francisco Opera’s new production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI is simply stunning. The vision of the production is under the direction of Gabriele Lavia in collaboration with set designer Alessandro Camera and costume designer Andrea Viotti. The ultimate star is Maestro Nicola Luisotti. From the overture’s rising arpeggios suggesting the lick of flames from the jaws of Hell to the final moments of Don Giovanni’s actual descent into eternal damnation, Luisotti drives the orchestra and cast of Mozart’s supreme masterpiece to a series of heady climaxes.

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Lucas Meachem (Don Giovanni) and Maestro Nicola Luisotti

In the title role, baritone Lucas Meachem embodies the qualities of the overbearing, overly-privileged and insatiable stud whose reason to be and sense of survival is dependent on conquering the very next woman within reach. The opera begins with his attempted rape of the wrong candidate, “Donna Anna” (Ellie Dehn), then impaling her father – “the Commendatore” (Morris Robinson) – with a long sharp-edged sword. Next scene, he is the most desirable guy on the block. Meachem is a former Adler Fellow and Merola Opera Program alumnus. Last season at SF Opera we saw him as “Count Almaviva” in Le Nozze di Figaro. Meachem has what it takes to play the prolific womanizer who is likewise an adorable scoundrel. He has grown into a superb actor and is on-fire vocally. The mandolin is nowhere near him but down in the pit, played by Craig Reiss. A welcomed change. “Deh, vieni alla finestra” (Come to the window) is a simple country tune about dewey-eyed longing. Director Lavia brings Giovanni down-front stage center to deliver the song, a balcony-type serenade, intended only for the personal maid of “Donna Elvira”. Meachem created a magical sense of intimacy with the entire audience, in this most private of moments – the inviting sounds of seduction. “Hello, Don Juan!” After that, he and Luisotti were full throttle on the faster than a speeding bullet tempo of “Fin, ch’chan dal vino” (Till they are tipsy). Meachem’s perfect rapid fire articulation was totally glorious as the conductor/singer duo slammed across the Finish Line and listened to the crowd go wild.

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Marco Vinco (Leporello)

Making his debut at SF Opera, lyric bass Marco Vinco is the most impressive “Leporello” on the boards today. As Don Giovanni’s manservant, director Lavia provides Vinco the perfect comedic balance between the servant who is publicly appalled at his master’s deceitful treatment of women but, privately, in breathless admiration of the guy’s perpetual stamina. In fact, he maintains an up-to-date catalogue of Giovanni’s conquests (“Madamina, il catalogo e’ questo”). In Italy alone he lists 640. But in Spain – as he reveals to the long-suffering stalker, “Donna Elvira” (Serena Farnocchia) – he’s indexed “mille e tre” (1,003)! As with Lucas Meachem, Marco Vinco’s repertoire includes the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro as well as the randy “Count Almaviva”. His voice is commanding and beautiful. Darting around any of the specially constructed and suspended Baroque mirrors – which serve not only as the symbolic reflection of one’s intent, but as location dividers and quick escape routes – or when quickly passing himself off as his magnanimous master in front of everyone who ought to know better – Vinco proves himself a versatile actor and romantic rogue.

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Marco Vinco (Leporello) and Lucas Meachem (Don Giovanni)

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Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna) and Serena Farnocchia (Donna Elvira)

In the role of the wronged and vengeance-seeking “Donna Anna”, soprano Ellie Dehn is a lovely presence and is vocally pleasing throughout each of her two arias. Although not as formidable as the male leads, including her suitor – “Don Ottavio” (Shawn Mathey) – Dehn is nevertheless the attractive leading lady worth waiting for. Serena Farnocchia as the deluded “Donna Elvira” capitalizes on the annoying nagging and endless moral finger-pointing of one of Giovanni’s somewhat older female conquests. She doesn’t get it that – even after she swoons from his casual caress or as the butt of Leporello’s joking disguise – she’s just another skirt to the wanderer who is clearly not of the settling-down variety. Serena warmed-up in Act II, delivering a remarkably powerful rendition of the recitative and aria, “Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata” (That ungrateful wretch betrayed me). In the supporting roles of “Masetto” and “Zerlina”, Ryan Kuster and Kate Lindsey have plenty of chemistry as the newlyweds who wonder if their wedding night will be interrupted by the licentious Giovanni. Leading him to his fiery doom is powerful bass Morris Robinson as the frightful ghost of “The Commendatore”.

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Ryan Kuster (Masetto) and Kate Lindsey (Zerlina)

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Lucas Meachem and Morris Robinson (The Commendatore)

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Shawn Mathey (Don Ottavio)

A surprise addition to the production is Shawn Mathey coming in as a last-minute replacement for the ailing Finnish tenor Topi Lehtipuu. “Don Ottavio”, the patient hanger-on admirer of “Donna Anna”, is a vocally challenging and often thankless role for many tenors, including the Mozart tenor. It’s just the way the character’s two major arias sit in the voice and the fact that neither of the pieces catapult audiences to their feet. Not so for Shawn Mathey. He was completely at home in this role that marks his debut with SF Opera. His first act aria, “Dalla sua Pace” (On her peace my peace depends), was sweet and resonant in the house, Mathey displaying solid control throughout his range. The fireworks came in Act II with “Il mio tesoro” (My treasure). Mathey’s coloratura is crystal clear and the upper register bright and passionate. This season he will go on to perform two other Mozart favorites, “Tamino” in Die Zauberflöte with the Dallas Opera and “Ferrando” in Cosi fan tutte at Bamberg.

— Click on the photo —
Get the story behind the construction of Don Giovanni’s 22 mirrors:

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All production photos by Cory Weaver

There are nine more performances of Don Giovanni. Click on the date to order tickets on-line:

Tues. October 18th, 8 pm
Fri. October 21st, 8 pm
Sun. October 23rd, 2 pm
Sun. October 23rd, 2 pm
Wed. October 26th, 7:30 pm
Sat. October 29th, 8 pm
Wed. November 2nd, 7:30 pm
Sat. November 5th, 2 pm
Thurs. November 10, 7:30 pm



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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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