I always find it a special experience to be able to attend a West Bay Opera Production. I don’t live in the area and when I visit the opera is not always available. However, on Sunday, February 26, 2023 I was able to attend the afternoon performance of Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What a performance it was!
Entering the auditorium of the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, I immediately feel at ease and comfortable and ultimately a part of the action because this space is small and welcoming. Whether one is coming to their first opera or is an opera buff there is so much to enjoy. The projections, sets, costumes, live orchestra, super titles and voices are at a level comparable to some of the finest opera houses around the world. Check this out when “The Flying Dutchman” by Richard Wagner opens on May 26, 2023.
I always look forward to the introduction by Jose Luis Moscovich who welcomes the audience and shares tidbits about the opera and the company. This production was dedicated to the memory of Marie Cuevas supporter and friend of the company. Moscovich has been General Director of West Bay Opera since 2006. As he leaves to conduct the orchestra, it is the orchestral music and the projections that take over. The projections are a very important enhancement to all of the performances. Kudos to Peter Crompton, with “technical projection assistance” from Frederic Boulay.
Don Giovanni is considered one of the greatest operas of all time. It is one of three operas that Mozart wrote to libretti by Lorenzo Da Pointe. In the last 76 years, West Bay Opera has presented it 3 times: in 1982, 2004 and 2012. While the last production was set in contemporary Brooklyn, the current production is set in the 1600’s, the original period. When the opera premiered in Vienna it was a rousing success.
Essentially this is the story of Don Juan, Don Giovanni’s sole purpose in life seems to be to seduce as many young woman as possible and keep a track record in a book. Don Giovanni was convincingly performed with the expected arrogance and pomp by baritone John Allen Nelson in his West Bay Opera debut. Leporello, Don Giovanni’s servant was Antonio Azpiri.
Leporello’s role was to obey his master (though he preferred not to do so) as he distracted, interacted and created scenes to assist Don Giovanni in charming the women. Azpiri was delightful, and the source of much of the humor in the opera.
We first meet Don Giovanni running from a failed seduction of Donna Anna (Michelle Dever) who is the thread that weaves the story together. Donna Anna’s father (Joshua Hughes) defending his daughter’s honor engages in a sword fight with Don Giovanni and is killed, making Don Giovanni a murderer who doesn’t seem very disturbed by his deed.
Searching for women, Don Giovanni and Leporello come upon a wedding party and the bride to be, Zerlina (Sara Benzinger) is initially interested but is warned off by Donna Anna. Benzinger’s acting stood out as well as her voice. Masetto (Joshua Hughes), Zerlina’s betrothed, no longer trusts her. Donna Elvira (Shaina Martinez), another potential conquest was an audience favorite.
Having wreaked havoc in the village, abandoned morality, and refused to make amends for his transgressions, Don Giovanni arrogantly meets his match in the statue gracing the grave of Donna Anna’s father and descends to the underworld.
With drama and humor, brilliant costumes by Callie Floor, makeup and wigs by David Gillam, choreography by Kara Davis, remarkable sets by Peter Compton, props by Shirley Benson all under the direction of Richard Harrell, and, of course, beautiful music, this was a memorable production.
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Production photos by Otak Jump
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