The In Series takes Mozart to a 1920s bible belt Revival in a creative and fun reimagining of Don Giovanni. Artistic Director Carla Hübner commissioned a new English language libretto by Bari Biern to tell the story of the libertine who bamboozles a town before they take their revenge. Biern wrote the hilarious Wild West version of last season’s Abduction from the Seraglio and she does it again – effortlessly transforming Giovanni into an itinerant American preacher. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote the music and Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote the original Italian libretto for this opera that premiered in 1787.
Billed as a Dramma Giocoso, a funny tragedy, this ensemble piece is full of tricky arias, meaty characters, and tense story. Director Tom Mallan makes good use of an ingenious set by Elizabeth McFadden who divides the stage with huge cotton fabric of a revival tent. Much of the action happens in silhouette on this tent, upping the dramatic moments and the mystery. The lighting by Alex F. Keen is key to the whole thing. Designers Patricia Sehar Peerzada and Brian J. Shaw deck everyone out in 20’s flapper dresses and dapper suits.
Mallan also handles the three couples in the complicated plot well – involving murder, betrayal, mistaken identity, and revenge. The action swirls around Don Giovanni (Andrew Pardini). He has the range to play this charming villain and the charisma and vocal chops to pull of the preacher who draws everyone into his web. He starts the opera strong with “Canzonetta: The Bible Says” and his “Wonderful ladies, vino is flowing” is tricky and fun for both him and the six-person orchestra under the baton of Stanley Thurston. It seems like there are many more musicians involved especially for the climactic “Don Giovanni! I’m here for dinner” as the theater swells with sound.
His partner in crime, the “lowely schlepper” Leporello (Alex Alburqueque) provides needed comic relief, but there’s nothing funny about his voice. He kills it on “Lovely Lady” and “Ah Have Pity On Me Please.”
Daniele Lorio (Sister Elvira) plays his wife and accuser. She has many of the most dramatic arias of the piece and the quickest arpeggios on “Reject this devil’s Son!” and the “Epilogue.”
The first couple he betrays is Ottavio and Sister Anna (Aaron Halevy and Randa Rouweyha). They put the tragedy in “funny tragedy” with their quest for revenge in their beautiful duet “Oh, my God, what is this?” But they each thrive solo as well for Rouweyha’s “I’ll never forgive him” and Halevy’s “Angels of mercy.”
Zerlina and Masetto (Laura Wehrmeyer Fuentes and Sean Pflueger) are the second pair in lighter, funnier roles. Fuentes is a stand out as the lovely Zerlina who loves her fiancé but is not immune to Giovanni. Her voice is so clear and her comedy so pointed for “You should Spank me, poor Masetto!” and the more serious “Let me reveal to you.”
Their duets are a thing of beauty as well for songs like “All you girls who would love to go steady,” on which they’re joined by a talented ensemble that can tackle the tricky runs Mozart is so fond of and bring the big sound for the climactic numbers as well.
The heart and skill that went into every piece of Don Giovanni is very evident from the opening chord to the final dramatic tableau. The In Series Don Giovanni is passionate, polished, powerful, and one of the best productions of the year.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Don Giovanni plays through March 23, 2015 at the In Series performing at GALA Hispanic Theatre – 3333 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 204-7763, or purchase them online.