Good wins over evil in Lyric's Don Giovanni

  • This season, Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Don Giovanni for the eleventh time. Kyle Flubacker

    This season, Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Don Giovanni for the eleventh time. Kyle Flubacker

 
Natalia Dagenhart
Updated 11/21/2019 12:55 PM

The wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23). Yes, this immortal line from the Holy Bible appears on the screen with the projected English translations at the end of Mozart's intriguing opera Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Before the concluding ensemble proclaims that "all sinners receive their just rewards," operagoers have more than three hours to witness Don Giovanni's sins and wrongdoings that lead him to literally fall into hell.

The premiere of this original Lyric production successfully opened Lyric's 60th anniversary season of 2014/2015. On November 14, 2019, it triumphantly returned to Lyric Opera's beautiful Ardis Krainik Theatre. Six more performances left, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23; 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 26; 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30; 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3; 2 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 5; and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Don Giovanni is Mozart's 19th opera out of 22 operatic works that he composed during his short but extremely productive life. Don Giovanni premiered in 1787, just four years before the composer's premature death at 35. This two-act opera is a blend of comedy, melodrama and tragedy with the libretto by Italian opera librettist, poet, and Roman Catholic priest Lorenzo Da Ponte. He was inspired by the legends of fictional libertine and seducer Don Juan by the Spanish Baroque dramatist, poet and Roman Catholic monk Tirso de Molina. It is not surprising, then, that the opera carries Biblical views and values while demonstrating various kinds of sin shown with the help of Mozart's thrilling and dramatic music.

The story depicted in this opera is as old as this world. Good girls like bad boys. It is true now, and it was true hundreds of years ago. Don Giovanni hurts, yet still attracts women. Being a villain with boyish energy and charming manners, he takes what he wants and lives only for his own pleasure without worrying about other people's feelings, especially the feelings of numerous women whom he seduces. He causes lots of harm and pain and even death, thinking that he can escape consequences. No, he doesn't escape them. At the end, he has to pay for all his sins. Interestingly, he is punished not by the people whom he hurt and who look for revenge; he punishes himself by irresponsibly sinning and forgetting about God.

For Lyric Opera of Chicago, Don Giovanni is a very meaningful operatic work. It was the first opera the company ever produced in early 1954 and gave Lyric Opera of Chicago a great start. This season, the company presents Don Giovanni for the eleventh time.

"Mozart's Don Giovanni occupies a unique place in the life of Lyric Opera of Chicago," wrote Lyric Opera's General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud and Chairman David T. Ormesher in Lyric Opera's Notes. "In 1954, after six different opera companies had failed over the previous half a century, Lyric Opera introduced itself to Chicago, opening with a production of Don Giovanni. Against all odds, it triumphed with critics and public alike. From that point on, Don Giovanni has continued to captivate the Lyric audience, revealing to both experienced operagoers and first-timers the revelatory genius of Mozart, one of the greatest musical dramatists in the history of opera."

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Don Giovanni is considered to be one of Mozart's most famous works and supreme achievements. Being a staple of the standard operatic repertoire around the world, Don Giovanni is one of the greatest operas of all time. Mozart knew how to masterfully show human nature through the means of music. This knowledge helped him to create immortal masterpieces, and Don Giovanni is one of them. Sin and joy, love and revenge, death and eternal wisdom -- every idea and thought have their own reflection in the music of Mozart.

The opera starts with a long and intense overture that foreshadows Giovanni's fate and his eventual death. In the beginning of Act One, Leporello, Giovanni's servant, keeps watch while his master seduces Donna Anna. Her father, the Commendatore, tries to catch her abuser, but Giovanni kills him. After that, Anna and Don Ottavio, her fiancé, vow to have vengeance. Donna Elvira, Giovanni's abandoned wife, is bitter and fiery and also seeks revenge on Giovanni. Meanwhile, Masetto and Zerlina, young peasants, celebrate their upcoming wedding with their friends. Giovanni approaches vulnerable Zerlina while Leporello distracts Masetto and at the party in his house rapes her. Her screams attract everyone's attention and Giovanni says that Leporello did it. Three masked guests arrive to this party; they are Anna, Elvira and Ottavio. They reveal Giovanni's identity.

Elvira, Anna, Ottavio, Masetto and Zerlina seek revenge on Giovanni, but later, during a beautiful scene at the church, Elvira admits that she still pities her husband. At the cemetery, Giovanni tells Leporello about his latest adventures when all of a sudden they hear the Commendatore's voice coming from a statue. This supernatural power scares and surprises them, yet Giovanni orders Leporello to invite the statue to dinner. Giovanni enjoys his dinner when the statue arrives and orders him to repent. Giovanni refuses and is literally dragged to hell. Leporello tells Anna, Ottavio, Elvira, Zerlina and Masetto about what has happened and everyone proclaims the end of an evildoer.

The premiere of this opera took place on October 29, 1787 in Prague and was rapturously received. For the Vienna performance that took place on May 7, 1788, though, Mozart had to revise some parts of it. His changes included adding some arias and recitatives and also substituting and cutting certain parts of the opera. The score of Lyric's production leans more towards the Vienna version of the opera.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Lyric's outstanding creative team made Mozart's masterpiece shine and thrill with every little element and detail. Impressive musical artistry is demonstrated by acclaimed American conductor James Gaffigan, who is hailed for the natural ease of his conducting and the compelling insight of his musicianship. Being in high demand in the United States, Europe and Asia, Maestro Gaffigan was greatly anticipated at Lyric. He brilliantly leads the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus prepared by chorus master Michael Black through Mozart's sublime score. During the season of 2017/2018, Gaffigan made his acclaimed Lyric debut with Così fan tutte, penned by Mozart and Da Ponte shortly after Don Giovanni.

Directed by Robert Falls, the Goodman Theatre's artistic director, Lyric's Don Giovanni impresses with interesting findings, unique ideas, and sophisticated special effects. Set in the 1920s, this production demonstrates atmospheric set designs by Walt Spangler and vividly colorful costumes by Ana Kuzmanic, including extravagant masks and a gorgeous Picasso-inspired gown. Masterful lighting by Duane Schuler enhances every scene, and unforgettable choreography by August Tye makes this production a shining gem. The culmination of the opera, where the statue of the murdered father comes to life and when the dramatic final encounter between the statue and Giovanni takes place, will make your heart pound and blood run faster. This moment makes everyone think about their own sins. This is the power of operatic art -- it makes you think!

Acclaimed American baritone Lucas Meachem portrays Don Giovanni November 14 -- 30, replacing Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov who due to a family situation in Europe had to withdraw from Lyric's production. In spite of Giovanni's bad behavior and overall negative personality, Meachem portrays Giovanni with humor and some sarcasm, as it was probably originally intended by Mozart and Da Ponte. His powerful, yet flexible voice, artistic charm and the lyricism in his vocal intonation attract and impress the audience. It will be a Lyric debut for famous Italian baritone Davide Luciano who will portray Giovanni December 3 -- 8.

Several more internationally renowned artists make their Lyric debut in this production. American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen brilliantly portrays Donna Anna. This role requires excellent vocal skills and outstanding artistry, and Willis-Sørensen possesses it all. This talented singer has been hailed as Donna Anna at the Metropolitan Opera, London's Royal Opera, in Vienna, Houston, and Dresden, and her appearance at Lyric was highly anticipated. American tenor Ben Bliss portrays Anna's fiancé, Don Ottavio. His sincere, touching and extremely beautiful voice matches characteristics of Ottavio, and Bliss finds the best way both vocally and artistically to present this role.

This production is also a Lyric debut for American bass-baritone Brandon Cedel, who masterfully portrays young and naïve Masetto. Being a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann program, Cedel possesses excellent vocal skills and techniques. Outstanding Chinese soprano Ying Fang also debuts in this production. Her Zerlina is vulnerable, touching and at the same time strong. She matures during the course of the opera, and Fang masterfully demonstrates these changes in her character. Vocal flexibility and artistic sincerity are the main points of her portrayal of Zerlina.

Chicago-area native and Ryan Opera Center alumna soprano Amanda Majeski portrays Donna Elvira. This role requires outstanding vocal technique and extremely emotional artistic presentation, and Majeski is the best fit for this role. Her strong voice and excellent breathing technique enable her to sing long and complicated musical phrases while delivering Elvira's mixed feelings to Giovanni.

Renowned English bass Matthew Rose portrays Giovanni's servant Leporello. Besides excellent vocal and artistic skills, this role requires a sense of humor and even sarcasm, which is an easy task for such a great artist as Rose. For acclaimed Finnish bass Mika Kares, portraying the Commendatore is a Lyric debut and an exciting task, which he performs brilliantly. His wonderful artistic and vocal skills shine brightly during the culmination of the opera where the statue of the murdered father comes to life. Kares is unforgettable during the dramatic final encounter between the statue and Giovanni, the moment often called operatic stagecraft at its finest.

Despite the abundance of violent scenes and Giovanni's dramatic fall into hell at the end of the opera, this production doesn't leave an unpleasant aftertaste. It is actually the opposite. Giovanni was kind of fun, but don't we all hope that good eventually wins over evil? And it does. As the moral of the opera states, "Such is the end of the evildoer: the death of a sinner always reflects his life." Well, it does. Bravo, Mozart! Long live immortal values!

For tickets and information, please visit www.lyricopera.org/productions/2019-20/don-giovanni/ or call (312)827-5600.