@Presented by Nashville Opera
8 p.m. Oct. 21 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24
TPAC’s Jackson Hall
For ticket information, call 255-ARTS
Over the last several seasons, Nashville Opera has mounted some spectacular productions of major works, among them Aïda, Carmen, The Magic Flute, Madame Butterfly, Der Rosenkavalier, and The Flying Dutchman. With very few exceptions, these operas have been well acted and well sung by strong casts top to bottom. Nashville Opera has become the most consistently top-drawer classical music organization in our city. The company promises to continue that level of excellence when it kicks off its 2000-2001 season this weekend with Mozart’s operatic masterwork Don Giovanni.
For some critics, Don Giovanni is the opera of all operas. Søren Kierkegaard called it the supreme human work of art. As the great Dane well knew, such hyperbole is bound to be challenged and cannot be corroborated. Undeniably, though, this opera grips and moves audiences in powerful and complex ways. The music is glorious, crystalline, subtle, and complex, marked with exquisitely simple melodies radioactive with drama. And the story is at once gripping, funny, terrifying, and stubbornly ironic.
First appearing in 17th-century Spain, the story tells how a wealthy Spanish aristocrat, Don Juan Tenorio, used his privileged social position to seduce swarms of women from all ranks of society. One aristocratic lady accuses him of attempted rape, and when her elderly father challenges the unrepentant libertine in defense of the family honor, Don Juan kills the old man. Afterward, the don continues on his lusty way, adding to his collection of trophies, until the dead old dad’s statue comes to life and carries the defiant seducer off to hell.
The basic outline of Mozart’s story, sung in Italian, follows this pretty closely, and can be seen as the tale of a bad man getting his just deserts. But Mozart subtly complicates the tale in wondrous ways, and the ambiguities are mostly left unresolved. First of all, though Mozart’s Don Giovanni pitilessly dispatches the foolish old father in a duel, he never forces himself on a woman in front of the audience. Donna Elvira, who has already given herself, is eager to yield to his charms again, even though she says she hates him. And the young peasant girl Zerlina, about to be married, is likewise so charmed by Giovanni’s wooing that she is eager to betray her impending nuptials. One of the opera’s wonders is that, in both these cases, the songs Giovanni sings are indeed bewitchingly beautiful; he could not sound more sincere. The Giovanni we see and hear does not simply want to screw these womenhe wants to make love to them. Giovanni is in love with making love, again and again, with as many women as possible.
The women don’t yield merely to his animal magnetism; they yield also to his charm, his patient, passionate tendernessa complex ideal of romance that may never be realizable and is certainly not sustainable. All this undergirds the suspicion many critics have voiced that Donna Anna is not telling the truth when she charges Giovanni with attempted rape. Her real motivation, maybe, is that she gave herself to him and he just walked away.
In this opera, nothing is securely what it seemsnot even Mozart’s glorious music. Irresistibly tender love songs come out of the throat of a pitiless seducer. An elderly aristocrat, defending what he says is his daughter’s honor but is in fact his own, stupidly commits suicide. Zerlina, a pretty peasant girl, is “saved” by sheer chance from betraying her troth; ready to walk into Giovanni’s arms, she likely does so with wider-open eyes than either Elvira or Anna. When caught, very nearly in flagrante, she appeases her fiancé by showing him how much she loves him: She places his hand above her heart and sings to him in liquid crystal tones, “Feel how it’s beating, O touch me here.” It is a lovely moment, a charming moment, and a cruelly human moment all at once.
All this ambiguity accumulates around the ending, when the statue of Anna’s dead father comes to life and hauls Giovanni away. How is this ending to be read? There is no consensus, and it has been staged in various ways. The persuasive reading, argued by Kierkegaard and George Bernard Shaw among others, is a mythic one: Giovanni and the father are both eternal cosmic forces. Just as the father is not dead, Giovanni cannot diewhat Whitman called the “procreative urge” is indestructible. What Don Giovanni dramatizes, in a magical blend of buffoonery and high seriousness, in some of the most gloriously enchanting music ever heard by human ears, is the unflinching truth about the human condition. Wishful thinking is an essential element of that truth.
Nashville Opera’s enactment of the myth will take place on a spectacular set bespeaking a grand Roman ruin. As usual, John Hoomes has assembled a strong cast led by guest conductor Mark Flint. Don Giovanni will be sung by Thomas Barrett, who has the baritone voice and the imposing physical presence the role demands. John Davies sings Leporello, Giovanni’s much-exploited manservant, as one of Shaw’s kind of comics (“a man with tears in him”).
Giovanni’s amorous appetite is omnivorous. In a famous aria, Leporello counts up his master’s conquests to date, and the total is 2,065, some 1,003 in Spain alone. Hyperbole notwithstanding, the three women in this opera suggest the breadth of his taste. Tamara Acosta, as Donna Elvira, is tall and statuesque; Tonna Miller, as the peasant Zerlina, is petite and curvy; and Geraldine McMillan, as the incandescently outraged Donna Anna, is voluptuous and intense.
The supporting men are well cast too. Timothy Truschel, as Masetto, Zerlina’s husband-to-be, is solid, worldly wise, and patient; he understands the ways of his world. Gregory Schmidt, as Don Ottavio, Anna’s betrothed, has the right voice and manner. Ottavio, one surmises, is not really in love with Anna: He is in love with being Anna’s Galahad, risking his own life to fight for madonna’s dubious honor. In a famous aria, almost impossibly bravura, Mozart smiles atand requires him to objectify brilliantlyhis excessive idealism.
Over the last five years, Nashville Opera, directed by John Hoomes and Carol Penterman, has become a very impressive regional company indeed. Every year, it seems, the pair raise the bar for themselves. Don Giovanni may well be, all things considered, the greatest challenge they have yet faced. But in recent rehearsals, even without costumes and set, the company made the pulse-rate quicken in anticipation. This could be the best of its productions so far.
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