One walks into the theater to find the back of the stage open to a glorious sunset over the Jemez Mountains.
But one night too late, it would seem. This was the Santa Fe Opera’s opening of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” not the previous night’s “Girl of the Golden West.”
Beautiful as they are, and certainly no one would object to the natural backdrop, American mountains have nothing whatever to do with the Viennese opera. Then slowly arising like Moby Dick from the deep, a giant cowled skull dominates the stage for the entirety of the opera.
A variety of fanciful lighting effects are cast upon the skull throughout the evening, reflecting the emotions portrayed on stage. This symbolist interpretation is replete with a plethora of supernumeraries acting as portentous props.
Daniel Okulitch appears to be winding his way from lecher to lecher in Mozart operas at the SFO. In 2013, he portrayed Count Almaviva in “The Marriage of Figaro” and this season takes on the archetypal seducer Don Giovanni. With his robust bass-baritone, Okulitch prances about the stage with the inescapable air of entitlement and privilege, all the more pronounced for having earned his title from nothing of social value.
Making his SFO debut, Kyle Ketelsen provides a perfect foil for the Don, matching him at every turn. His “Catalogue Aria,” though it has been sung millions of times, never fails to elicit laughs.
As the full-bodied figure of aristocratic outrage, Leah Crocetto gives an impassioned portrayal of Donna Anna, seduced as the opera opens. Crocetto was heard here previously in the 2012 production of “Maometto II” by Rossini.
As the country couple Zerlina and Masetto, Rhian Lois and Jarrett Ott, respectively, make an impressive pair. Lois sings the music with a delicacy and ease of production. She casts a sweet and tender sentiment in “Vedrai carino.” Ott is no shy rustic, but a robust lover who, were it not for social conventions of class, seems perfectly ready and capable of pummeling the life out of the Don.
Solomon Howard gives a rich and powerful reading of the Commendatore both before and after death.
The other singers fare less well. Lithuanian Edgaras Montvidas, as Don Ottavio, belongs to that generation of tenors straining to produce a stentorian sound. I can hardly single him out, as there seems to be currently a veritable school of ill-advised vocal production. His aria “Dalla sua pace” was overly nuanced nearly to a point of affectation. Though as Okulitch did the same thing in his aria “Deh! vieni alla finestra,” that decision must rest with conductor John Nelson.
As Donna Elvira, soprano Keri Alkema too, constantly forces the sound, much to the detriment of her instrument. Careers are quickly limited in this way. Listen to any recording of half a century ago, and the difference in vocal technique will be obvious.
Overall, the opera is well-choreographed with believable and especially comic acting from all the principals. In that aspect, opera production has made tremendous strides from previous decades. Generally, Nelson moves the music along at a brisk pace.