'Giovanni's' best is yet to come


The audience for tonight's performance of the Baltimore Opera Company's production of "Don Giovanni" may be lucky enough to hear the one I hoped to hear Thursday on opening night.

It should have been terrific: an exceptionally able cast, including James Morris, one of the great basso cantante of the last 25 years; a conductor, Christian Badea, able to shape the performance with energy and rhythmic clarity; magnificent sets (borrowed from Nicholas Muni's original production at the Cincinnati Opera); beautifully costumed (by John Lehmeyer) and lit (by Donald Edmund Thomas); and with singers splendidly bewigged and made up (by Georgiana DeSantis).

How could a production boasting such credentials be occasionally charmless and lifeless? Given the complications that beset any opera production, I suspect the answer is fairly easy. This was a production that needed at least one (and possibly two) rehearsals to come together. It seemed that everyone knew what to do; they just weren't yet comfortable doing it.

If not -- at least at the start -- always at his best, Morris reached genuine distinction in the title role. The voice was weighty and sometimes insufficiently smooth, but he is an imaginative singer, with a splendid technique and with dramatic vision. He was an aristocrat with a rough edge: his ruthless brutality eschewed neither seductive charisma nor comic charm.

As Leporello, baritone Giovanni Furlanetto may not have had the ideal richness of tone for the graveyard address to the Commendatore's statue. But Leporellos must be seen, as well as heard, and Furlanetto is a superb singing actor. He played brilliantly against Morris -- he imitated the latter amusingly -- and his terror was quite convincing.

Lauren Flannigan was both appealing and impassioned as Donna Anna. Ines Salazar's Elvira was full of determination, though initially a little unsteady of pitch and technique. Nicole Biondo was a disappointing Zerlina, relatively charmless and somewhat labored.

Some of the finest work of the evening came from the Don Ottavio of Roberto Sacca. Few tenors have the energy, gallantry and heroism the role needs -- Sacca had all three. Of the others, Brian Jauhiainen did not have quite the vocal stature necessary for the Commendatore, but Julien Robbins made an attractive Masetto.

To repeat: all the ingredients for a fine "Don Giovanni" -- with just a little more cooking time needed.

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