“Don Giovanni” is perhaps Mozart’s greatest opera. His blend of the comic and tragic (in technical terms Buffa and Seria) redefined the genre, meaning that any good production must bring both to the table. The Yale School of Music’s production, which finished its run yesterday, told half the story: I laughed but wasn’t even close to tears.
Comedy in opera can often be crude and contrived, but this production brought out both the subtleties and the pantomime of Da Ponte’s libretto. Particular stand outs were Cameron McPhail’s MUS ’12 Masetto and Stephanie Gilbert’s MUS ’11 Donna Elvira both of whose timing and dramatic wit were on point.
But the production lacked something vital: the serious. This is a dark opera — it’s centred around a serial rapist — but the performers were never willing to commit to the moments where the sinister truth unfolded. Most of the scenes that weren’t comedic felt stilted and flat. Though each performer sang beautifully — there was not a single weak link vocally — the drama just wasn’t quite there. I never believed that Lóránt Najbauer MUS ’11 was Don Giovanni. I never believed that he could kill the Commendatore. I never believed that he slept with all those women.
Opera is as much about gesture as it is about pitch, a fact this production seems to have forgotten. Next time, the Yale Opera should remember to be a little Seria as well.