Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ at Repertory Opera

Don Giovanni (Colin Ramsey) accuses Leporello (Arthur Freeman), of Zerlina’s abduction

The tale of Don Juan has been told for centuries, supposedly originating in Spain around 1670. The Italian name for the libertine, Don Giovanni, is used for Mozart’s opera about the nobleman with an insatiable appetite for the ladies and an almost complete lack of moral compass.

Performed by the Repertory Opera Company of Pomona under the direction of LizBeth Lucca, in the sanctuary of the First Christian Church of Pomona, and with an outstanding piano accompaniment by Brian Farrell. The cast was made up of experienced singers who delivered significantly more than I expected from a local company, both in acting and in vocal capability. Costumes were very credible, sets were minimal but innovative and effective, and the action flowed dynamically from the moment the show started, with no lulls or breaks (other than intermission). A unique and welcome treatment was the delivery of recitatives in a mixture of English and Italian, which allowed the audience to keep up with the plot and more fully enjoy Mozart’s brilliant music.

Don Giovanni (sung by Colin Ramsey) charmed and seduced every female he met, from noblewomen and their servants to peasant girls and not a few audience members. Mr. Ramsey’s powerful bass easily established the dominance of his character, assisted by his dashing good looks, mischievous smile, high energy and natural style in portraying the rogue’s devil-may-care character. It was a pleasure to listen to his polished and resonant bass. This “emerging professional” is a singer to watch, one who seems capable of great things.

As Don Giovanni’s servant, Leporello (sung by Arthur Freeman) created an excellent comedic foil for his master’s single minded lechery, with great timing and wonderfully intimate facial expressions. These worked well in the close proximity of the church sanctuary, where every nuance could be seen and appreciated by the audience. Mr. Freeman’s skill as an actor made Leporello one of the most sympathetic characters of the opera, even eclipsing his considerable vocal talents, which made light work of the Catalogue Aria and many recitatives.

The first victim of the night, Donna Anna (sung by Leslie Dennis), came bursting onto the stage early in Act I to defend against Don Giovanni’s unwelcome entry into her boudoir. Ms Dennis sang with a beautiful line and ringing tone throughout the production. Her rendering of “Non mi dir” was lyrically tender in its sentiment and right on in intonation and dynamics, especially in the coloratura. Don Ottavio (sung by Matt Dunn) gave a solid performance as her devoted betrothed, delivering an evocative and romantic “Dalla sua pace” with lovely legato phrasing.

Donna Elvira (sung by Jade lin Hornbaker) presented a classic portrayal of the “wronged woman” who hunted her man down and demanded that he make good on his promises. Ms Hornbaker’s Elvira took the stage with haughty command, delivering a beautifully resonant interpretation of Elvira’s travails from her first entrance of “Ah, che mi dice mai?”, her gorgeous full lyric soprano voice easily filling the hall.

The third woman to encounter Don Giovanni’s charms was Zerlina (sung by Lawren Donahue), a peasant girl engaged to Masetto. Ms Donahue convincingly portrayed a young woman who was swept away by the bold attentions of the Don, even as she prepared to take the vows of marriage to a man from her village. Her substantial lyric soprano carried well with a beautiful round sonority. “Batti, batti, bel Masetto” and “Vedrai, carino” were enchanting and demonstrated her skills as both a singer and an actress. Kevin Wiley gave a strong performance as Masetto, a kind and totally devoted partner to Zerlina. Although he got plenty tired of her flirtatious behavior toward Don Giovanni, he could never resist her charms when she returned to him, penitent.

A final note goes to the Commendatore (sung by Joel Huanca), whose appearance at the end of the last act gave me chills. I saw his pedestal carried onstage at the set change, but didn’t notice him atop it until after tall pillars, which had been temporarily placed in front of the marble stand, were removed. Then he was visible, already frozen into position, painted with metallic paint as if he were a full-size bronze statue. When he spoke for the first time to interrupt Don Giovanni’s repartee with Leporello, his sonorous, dark bass tones seemed to come from nowhere, as my mind had already dismissed his presence as “not human”! An excellent stage trick, beautifully executed. Mr. Huanca’s amazing bottom notes really sounded like they came from the grave itself.

The chorus, small but powerful, delivered their part admirably, doing double duty by also changing the sets for each new scene. Since the stage had no curtains to conceal it during set changes, the strategy of having cast members quickly carrying props on and off effectively got the task done and piqued my interest about what was to come. Their final appearance as demons from Hell, come to claim Don Giovanni as their rightful prey, was surprisingly convincing and highly entertaining, smoke machines included.

The production delivered beautiful ensemble work throughout, with the entire cast carrying their individual roles in strong, well rehearsed performances that made the time fly while fulfilling the promise of Mozart’s lively music. Repertory Opera Company gave the Inland Empire an exciting and satisfying Don Giovanni, and is a local opera company well worth supporting.

— Barbara Frey
Community Reviewer for Lauri’s List

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