Seattle Opera is crowning the year commemorating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth with a brand new production of "Don Giovanni" at McGraw Hall, opening on Saturday, Jan. 13, and concluding Jan. 27.
I have many fond memories of past productions of "Don Gio-vanni," which was my hus-band's favorite Mozart opera, as far back as the 1967-68 season.
The1968 production - in April, to be exact - boasted only four performances. It featured Joshua Hecht as Don Giovanni, Joan Sutherland as Donna Anna and her husband, coach and mentor Richard Bonynge conducting. A memorable production, made even more so by the great voice of Sutherland, who had charmed Seattle audiences in her appearance in Delibes' opera "Lakmé."
Australian soprano Joan Sutherland, considered "the Voice of the Century," was a guest, together with her conductor husband, on our radio program, "The British Hour." We dedicated a whole program to them in honor of Australia Day, including Monty Python's Eric Idle spoof on Australian wines ("Wogga Wogga Plonk"), which quite upset some of the more conservative Australian listeners. We also arranged a reception for the Bonynges and cast at the British Consulate, with the Australian consul flying in from San Francisco. The reception was much enjoyed by all; Joan Sutherland exhibited quite a sense of humor, and regaled us with many amusing stories and anecdotes.
During the 1978-79 season, "Don Giovanni" once again graced Seattle Opera at the old opera house. Many of the Ring cast were in the production, including the late Archie Drake doing his Stone Statue as the Commendatore, Carol Webber (the Forest Bird in "The Ring"), Noel Mangin (another Australian), Donald Collins and William Livingston, all of whom went on to do many roles for Seattle Opera.
The Seattle Symphony Orchestra was on strike at that time, so the opening-night performance was conducted by Henry Holt from the stage and played on a beautiful antique harpsichord. Sherrill Milnes made a particularly agile, swashbuckling, Errol Flynn-like Don Giovanni, with a great voice and great acting. During the intermission, many ladies were heard to remark; "He can swing from my chandelier any time!" From our seats in the third row center, we felt as though we were being entertained by Mozart in our own private salon. That particular "Don Giovanni" production was my husband's favorite, and sadly, his last, as he passed away in 1988.
The "Don Giovanni" in May 1991 was my least favorite production, though it had a good cast of singers, headed by Dale Duesing as the Don, Donna Anna sung by Sheri Greenawald and Lauren Flanigan, with our own maestro and Mozart expert, Gerard Schwarz, conducting. The music was wonderful, but the sets and costumes (or the lack of them!) were squalid, dull, depressing and thoroughly grim. The setting was the 1940s, with the cast dragging around a bunch of cheap, dark, Bentwood chairs.
In my opinion, the charm of "Don Giovanni" is in the elegant setting, opulent and lush costumes depicting the status of the characters (as in Shakespeare, when the Master changes places with the Servant, with appropriate attire), with all the morals and mores and hypocrisies of the Renaissance Age. Don Giovanni is a charming, likeable serial-seducer, but like the villains in Shakespeare, he has many facets to his character, and can charm himself out of any situation and inspire devotion and loyalty in his servant. This Don came across as a thoroughly unpleasant rake with no redeeming features, in his dark Zoot Suit, leaning against a grimy wall; dragging his chairs around and chasing the women in drab, square-shouldered suits, seamed stockings and ugly, graceless shoes and hats; all that was missing was a tommy gun in a violin case! That particular production certainly made an impression on me: I left the theater angry and disappointed, and glad that I had done my article in advance.
The 1998-99 season brought "Don Giovanni" for eight performances in January of 1999, conducted by Klaus Donath and directed by Lynn Binstock, with Sally Wolf as Donna Anna, the dashing Don played to perfection by handsome Welsh baritone Jason Howard (an ex-firefighter and football player from Mithatiddville who sang Welsh anthems to the local crowds at international football games at Cardiff Arms Park). The local ladies of the Welsh Women's Club and the Northwest Welsh Association and local Welsh choirs were delighted to entertain Jason during his stay in our fair city. The production was traditional, with colorful costumes by Richard St. Clair - all in all quite enjoyable, and set in the correct time period.
With the 1991 "Chair" production still in my mind, I was interested to read excerpts of an interview with Chris Alexander, the set designer for the new production of "Don Giovanni" in 2007. I was particularly interested in his opinions of the character of Don Giovanni and how he should be portrayed, and was pleased to note that his opinions were so close to mine.
This year's production is the fifth collaboration of Chris Alexander and Robert A. Dahlstrom, with costumes designed by Marie-Therese Cramer, and all sets and costumes built by our own Seattle Opera. The cast features Don Giovanni sung by the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien (who made his debut here in "Don Pasquale" in 2003, and who has at least half a dozen Dons to his credit), Morgan Smith as Alternate; Donna Anna sung by Pamela Armstrong with Franzita Whelan as Alternate; Donna Elvira sung by Marie Plette with Alternate Dana Beth Miller; Don Ottavio sung by Richard Croft, Patrick Miller as Alternate; Leporello sung by Eduardo Chama, Brian Kontes as Alternate; Ailish Tynan as Zerlina with Heather Parker as Alternate; Masetto sung by Kevin Burdette and Commendatore sung by Russian bass Vladimir Ognovenko. Morgan Smith and Heather Parker are former Seattle Opera Young Artists.
With this group of world-class singers, this year's "Don Giovanni" promises to be a super production, and to quote Speight Jenkins, "It's going to be a great performance - don't miss it!"
With six "Don Giovanni" productions in 37 years, Seattle Opera is alive and well. Under the dedicated direction of Speight Jenkins, the Young Artists program to ensure future singers, and the James and Sherry Raisbeck Singers Endowment to provide lead singers, Seattle Opera's future looks bright. Thank you!
P.S.: STOP THE PRESS!
The Gilbert & Sullivan Society offers workshops for teens in high school. For information about the workshop, including an application, check www.pattersong.org. People can contact the Society at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 682-0796 to reserve a spot in the class or for more information. Space is still available, but time is limited, as the deadline was Jan. 5.