It would be pleasant to be able to say that Boris Goldovsky had closed the fall-winter season of his New England Opera Theater with a production as thoroughly satisfactory and promising as his first two. Mr. Goldovsky chose for the last work in his "Mozart Festival" an opera whose problems of staging, casting, and setting have always been imposing; and yesterday's performance indicated, unfortunately, that his group is not yet up to the task.
"Don Giovanni" is Grand Opera in the fullest and most serious sense of the term, a fullness that neither "Figaro" nor "Idomenco," the previous efforts of the New England group, attempts to duplicate. The essential weakness of the performance yesterday was its failure to recognize Grand Opera, its insistence upon petty tricks of gesture and staging in place of the "grand style" that is dead for many things, but not for "Don Giovanni."
Mr. Goldovsky has expressed publicly-and the title of his organization gives this away-his idea that opera should be made more palatable to the American public by emphasizing its theatrical elements. To this end Mr. Goldovsky has introduced English words into his productions to help get across the plots, has added sundry stage devices to reiterate the words of the singers, and has in general tried to make the audience forget the austere surroundings of the Boston Opera House and if possible imagine itself in a Theatre Intime. This technique, so successful other times, splintered into pettiness against the tougher flesh of Mozart's operatic masterpiece.
The chief characteristic of this artificially theatrical approach to the work yesterday was Mr. Goldovsky's evident insistence that everyone do something while singing. All the staging seemed forced. People would pace about the stage, look at the audience and toward the rear of the stage, and whisper in other characters' cars. To keep the action moving, some seenes were played in front of the curtain while sets were changed behind-with cramped action and annoying off-stage noises the result. All the singers were given to exaggerated postures-one felt like shouting, "Don't be so deucedly condescending!" Costumes were gaudy and ugly.
The English translation that went over so well in "Idomoneo" seemed to bog down in "Giovanni." Recitatives like "What dreadful thing has happened" smacked unfortunately of Gilbert and Sullivan, and the Catalogue Aria collapsed. Giovanni's drinking song was taken at half speed, evidently to fit either the language or the voice.
Over all the flaws ran Goldovsky's insistent misinterpretation of the Giovanni role. Through devices of exaggeration and misrepresentation the Don was painted progressively blacker and blacker. In the famous anti-climactical finale Goldovsky had two of his singers draw the curtains behind them as they warned the audience of the effects of sin, thus putting the last film of farce on what should have been a tragedy-on a performance that was petty and cute and exaggerated instead of majestic and underlyingly serious.
Voices, too, seemed at a level below that of other New England Opera Theater productions. Only Norman Scott, in the lead role, did a first-rate job-others varying from not quite adequate to definitely annoying.