It was a pleasant enough evening, but let's face it--why Don Giovanni, of all operas? Harvard-operatic productions, beset by obvious limitations, suggest several rationales--a training ground for student singers; an opportunity to present neglected works; and, most simply, straight entertainment, inevitably of the comic sort. The Eliot-Leverett collaboration, however, imported all but one of its seven principals from outside Harvard and turned them loose on a masterpiece that is easily maimed in performance and only too notorious for its structural lapses and dramatic incongruities. Far sounder cases can be made for the recent Lowell productions, House Afire, the Paisiello Barber, and the forthcoming Turn of the Screw, and for the Eliot-Leverett Cosi fantutte of last year.
Had conductor Isaiah Jackson and producer Santiago Leon wished to produce merely another sure-fire opera bluffa, they would have made the obvious cuts, livened up the staging and broadened the comedy even further. Instead they offered a Don Giovanni of traditional proportions, and the production must be judged as such.
Opera cynics today occasionally claim that successful productions are necessarily about 80 per cent staging; but if that dictum held last night, Giovanni would have been a disaster. Designer W. E. Schroeder was faced with the sizeable challenge of eight sudden and radical scene changes, and totally cowed, he reverted to a single homely, primitive set, which remains essentially unchanged for three and one-half hours. Nor were the ideas of Luiz-Lopez-Cepero of much greater ambitiousness; both the overall blocking and the dance sequences remained clumsy and often unconvincing.
Thus the virtues of this Giovanni resided almost solely in the cast, despite the presence of only two genuinely operatic voices: the Don of Sean Barker and the Donna Anna of Donna Roll. Barker displayed all the necessary magnetism and menace, but without the grand air of defiance appropriate to his eventual damnation. His Champagne Aria was most exuberant, if a bit breathless; and the Serenade was one of the few instances all night of fine sotto voce singing. Roll's soprano, while raw and occasionally off-pitch, was clearly the biggest voice of all, and was used to best advantage in her massive revenge aria of the first act. Eleanor Edward's Donna Elvira was not the nuisance this role can be, in its hysterical comings and goings. Her voice, slightly warmer and more focused than Roll's, seemed edgy in the "Chimi di ce mai," but relaxed in the second act for a superb "Mi tradi."
As is often the care, the audience's favorite was Zerlina, sung as soubrettishly as bearable by Spring Fairbank. Although her two charming scenes with Masetto were flawless, perhaps the most stylish singing came in the "La ci darem" duet with Giovanni. Bass Tom Weber, while rather dry-sounding and somewhat strained, made the most of Leporello's varied moods and tasks, though perhaps not with the same hilarity of his Don Alfonso (of last year's Cori). Less satisfactory were the nasal tenor of August Paglialunga, a peculiarly huge Don Ottavio, and the half-sung Masetto of Don Meaders.
It cannot be honestly said that Jackson brought more to the score than a sure beat and an adequate overall command; in the second act sextet alone, countless lovely details were underplayed or ignored.
Much of the performance's humor, unfortunately, was due to the strange and mawkish Auden-Kallman English translation; many serious moments are transformed into unintentional burlesque.