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Music Review : A No-frills 'Don Giovanni' With An Opulent Yield

February 10, 1986|JOHN VOLAND

A cautionary note to those who feel that their opera must be grand to be worthwhile was sounded Saturday night at the Santa Ana High School auditorium, wherein the Western Opera Theater, the touring arm of the San Francisco Opera Center, put on a most satisfying--if spare--"Don Giovanni."

No pyrotechnical wizardry accompanied this Don's descent into the nether regions; merely some dry ice tossed in a bucket and a pulsing red light or two served to mark the libertine's moral just desserts.

But if one must present a low-cost profile, by all means learn by the Western Opera's laudable example: young singers of an excitingly high caliber, stylish English translations, elegantly inexpensive costumes and utilitarian sets and decor.

Both Mozart and the audience were well served. Deborah Voigt was a splendid Donna Anna, sailing through "Or sai chi l'onore"--the Waterloo of many a fine soprano--with ease and, as a bonus, enunciating clearly and showing, with nice underplaying, a number of dramatic sides to the character's personality.

Philip Skinner's Don Giovanni was an ingratiating smoothie, both vocally and gesturally; not at all a diabolical plunderer of flesh, Skinner's recreation resembled rather a romantic gambler on a roll too good to stop. His "Deh vieni alla finestra" was especially winning in this context.

The Leporello of Mark Coles and the Donna Elvira of Karen Wicklund shared common strengths and weaknesses: while possessing basically fine vocal equipment, they seemed slightly miscast in their roles. Coles, the owner of a devastating deadpan wit, had some trouble with the servant's upper musical reaches, while Wicklund couldn't seem to summon the requisite righteous fire needed for Elvira, though her ensemble singing was unfailingly fine.

As the country lovers Zerlina and Masetto, soprano Tracy Dahl and bass-baritone Richard Rebilas contributed committed, nicely sung performances. Dahl's "Batti, batti" was one of the evening's many vocal highlights, and she had the bucolic calculation of the role down cold. Rebilas' jealous bumpkin was far more than a bumbler: the fire that flashed from his eyes would put several Giovannis on their guard.

And Jose Garcia's Commendatore pulled a neat trick: he sounded much more vital and fresh as the deceased Stone Guest than he did in Act One, where he's alive and fighting.

The Orange County Pacific Symphony's Mozart unit (about 40 players, at a guess) was often too loud and occasionally ungainly--the overture was a hit-and-miss affair--but conductor Evan Whallon kept the players' attention on the stage, where it must be, and gave his singers all the musical room they needed, for which--considering the excellent outcome--they should be thankful indeed.

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