Charles Petzold

“Don Giovanni” for 200

August 4, 2008
Roscoe, N.Y.

We weren't quite sure what to expect. We were familiar with the 200-seat Tusten Theatre in Narrowsburg, and we were pretty sure that it couldn't really accomodate an opera. The stage is quite small and there isn't even an orchestra pit.

What's more, the tickets for the Delaware Valley Opera's production of Mozart's Don Giovanni — a tragicomical chronicle of the last few days of archetypal sexual compulsive Don Juan — were only $25 a seat, which seemed frighteningly low for a three-hour opera with eight solo roles, chorus, and orchestra.

Yesterday afternoon we discovered how it's done: The small Delaware Valley Chamber Orchestra — two violins, viola, cello, bass, French horn, bassoon, clarinet, oboe, flute, and timpani — occupied the space between the stage and the first row of center seats. DVO Director Jim Blanton conducted from behind a synthesizer set to a harpsichord program for the recitativi. The sets were minimal but otherwise it was complete authentic Don Giovanni — uncut or nearly so and sung in Italian — and great fun. There were even English supertitles projected on a small screen at the top of the stage.

The eight roles were very well sung, particularly Jeremy Moore as a young, virile, and arrogant Don Giovanni; Julie Ziavras as a powerfully voiced Donna Anna; and Jeanne-Marie Lowell as Donna Elvira, never quite sure if she's hunting down the Don or stalking him. They were joined by the dozen or so fine voices of the DVO Choral Ensemble.

The minimal sets — with some action occassionally in front of the closed curtain — helped to keep the pace of the opera going, and only towards the end was I disappointed with the staging. Normally the Commendatore appears on stage as a marble statue. In this production he was merely a disembodied voice coming from the rear of the theater, and Don Giovanni had to reach into space as the Commendatore supposedly took his hand. Almost in compensation for this deficiency were the wonderful writhing demons who crawled across stage to encircle the Don and drag him down to hell.

In those final few moments of the opera, the problem with using a chamber orchestra also became most apparent. A strong orchestra plays a crucial part in introducing the Commendatore with the same chords heard three hours ago in the overture, and in these chords and the subsequent increasingly frenetic music, the chamber orchestra became not quite adequate.

Still, it was a real treat to see Don Giovanni in such an intimate setting; the Delaware Valley Opera has two more performances of Don Giovanni coming up, as well as Donizetti's Don Pasquale sung in English, and two other programs of songs and opera excerpts.