Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA; August 20, 2022—Now in its sixth season, the entirely professional Berkshire Opera Festival operates out of a 600-seat, finely refurbished, 117-year-old gem of a theater right off the Main Street in Great Barrington, MA. In previous seasons I’ve seen an ingenious and wonderfully sung Don Pasquale and a Falstaff that was reminiscent of the old, Franco Zeffirelli production at the Met. Innovative, clever, and using some well-known and some up-and-coming singers and seasoned directors and designers, it has become a “destination” of sorts for New Yorkers, Bostonians, and more local opera lovers.
Their recent run of Mozart’s Don Giovanni fascinated and frustrated, with company co-founder and director Jonathon Loy opting for a singularly corrupt view of the opera. Called a “dramma giocosa” by Mozart and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, there was little of the “giocosa” here.
Using the Prague version of the opera, from the start the Don was shadowed by an evil doppelganger/demon/dancer (a fine Edoardo Torresin) who writhed and posed around and behind him in tortured Martha Graham-type movements–an evil id, as it were. Mostly very effective, at times either too poorly lit or too intrusive, the conceit was in keeping with Loy’s decision to dress the whole cast in black, and populating the first-act party not with local fun-loving bumpkins but with opportunists who partook quickly and copiously of the drugs being passed around in lieu of food. The mostly black and gray faux-marble, angular sets by Stephen Dobay add to the gloom.
In the Champagne Aria, the stage is bathed in red; at one point Zerlina dons the Don’s clothing so she can be aggressively masculine. The finale features not only the vampirically made-up Commendatore, but an 8-foot tall, terrifying demon. The curtain descends and the final sextet is performed in front of a black curtain. There’s no sunlight in Seville.
Approve of it or not, it is amazingly effective. Brian Garman’s reduced orchestra (about 40 players) makes a grand sound, the brass brutal and the winds somewhat underplayed. The singing is uniformly splendid: André Courville’s smooth bass-baritone and comfort on stage added to a true characterization of the Don, and Christian Zaremba’s Leporello, with a tone equally dark, was the ideal disapproving wing-man.
Laura Wilde’s Anna came to life—suddenly—in “Or sai chi l’onore”, and conquered “Non mi dir” with élan. Megan Moore nailed Donna Elvira’s dichotomy, both despising and adoring the Don. Joshua Blue’s handsome tenor was deprived of “Il mio tesoro”, but sang his first-act aria meltingly. Natalia Santaliz made a lusty Zerlina–no sweetness and light here–and Brian James Myer’s Masetto was fine. The veteran John Cheek was a fierce Commendatore.
All three performances were sold out and the controversy over Loy’s vision only added to the Festival atmosphere.