50th Golden Anniversary Season July 3 - July 31, 2016
I want to congratulate the Bar Harbor Music Festival on its production of Don Giovanni.
Opera is covered over with so much negative baggage that to talk about it at all takes a lot of
gumption. It is, after all, an extravagant art( there's even a book by that title: Opera The Extravagant
Art.). Opera is thought to be culturally "high brow," categorized along with Shakespeare and
Goethe who are assumed to be outside the ken of ordinary folks. I have always found this evaluation to be amusing and grossly untrue primarily because excepting Goethe, I have been in
love with both the opera and Shakespeare since I was a very small child.
Anyway, one of the things I do in my retirement is to try to remove the stigma about watching opera and encourage people to give it a try. So, together with nine
of my friends we take the opportunity provided by the Metropolitan Opera's HD productions in theaters each year to deliver introductions to each opera in the
series, in the week prior to its performance (in our area at Collins on the University of Maine's
Campus). We give these talks at libraries, at one Senior Living Complex, and this Fall, for the first time, we will have a pilot program at an area High School.
In this coming Fall season, my talk will be on Mozart's daPonte opera, Don Giovanni. Therefore,
when I learned you were presenting Don Giovanni in your summer season, I wondered at your presumption. The DON is a BIG opera in every way. How, I asked myself, could you undertake
such an enormous challenge, even if it is your Fiftieth Anniversary? Did someone die and leave you a bundle? Or, did you find an angel to underwrite the whole project?
I mean, this opera is in two Acts, with 10 scenes, runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes, includes a
statue of the dead Commendatore -- who moves, a main character who gets dragged off to Hell, a
ballroom scene with dancing guest and dancing entertainers, a banquet scene and other difficult
to pull off events. The opera also requires five major singing roles and two not-so-minor singing roles, plus a chorus of peasants, stage musicians, and offstage demon.
I mean, this is a BIG opera; an extravagant opera.
Well, I need not have
worried. Your performance of Don Giovanni helped me to remember that although in large Opera Houses the opera contains lots of spectacle, in small houses it need not
have them. After all, the singers tell a story about a bad guy whose life centers on having corporal conversations with lots and lots of
women: very old, very young, slim and not so, pretty and not so, titled and not. He gives no care for
anything other than having women and increasing their numbers on his lists. In the part of his story
that we see in this production,we meet two women whom he has already used and discarded, and
one to whom he hopes to do the same -- and on her wedding night, no less. The story centers on
how he fares with this world, his flesh, and a ghost from the after-world. Yes, this is a morality play.
Your production because it was bereft of all the usual colorful spectacle helped keep the focus on that story and on Mozart's exceptional music.
With a brilliant accompanist on a single piano, an entire cast of excellent singers, and pared down
sets, the action was kept in front of the audience and we missed the other usual elements of
spectacle not at all. While the beautiful soprano voices were not so large as we might have
wished, and the setting in New Orleans during Mardi Gras at some indeterminate time, and the
costumes were regrettable, Leporello was unforgettable. In addition to embodying a really good
voice, he seemed to understand the nuances in his character and to negotiate the terrain between
admiration, jealousy, and repulsion at Giovanni's behavior in equal measure. Christopher Job,
who realizes Leporello in this production, is magnificent in the role and the"Catalog Aria" lists the
number of women in various countries who have been conquered by the Don) has not been sung better in my hearing.
At this point, you may wonder how many times I have heard and seen this opera. Well, I don't
know. It is one of my favorites and I've been listening to opera since I was six years old (I've now
been retired for over fifteen years). But this summer, I have seen, multiple times, five different
productions of Don Giovanni on DVDs. These productions have come from Peter Sellars and the Vienna Philharmonic, The English National Opera,The Royal Opera at Covent Gardens, The
Metropolitan Opera in New York, and Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. I watch these , study them
compare and contrast them in preparation for my opera talk in the Fall. It takes a long, if
pleasurable time. So when I say I found this production engaging and rewarding, I do have some basis for comparison.
Now when I consider that musicians and production staff made all of this effort for a production
which would be seen for one time only, never to be seen or heard again, I can't believe our good
fortune to have heard and seen it. BRAVI, BHMF. You deserve great praise for this astonishing accomplishment.
Esther N. Rauch