Don Giovanni 2014

Additional production photographs will be added soon. Thank you for your patience.



Conductor: George Manahan
Cast: Elliot Madore, Joe Barron, Michele Johnson, Amanda Majewski, David Portilla, Cecelia Hall, Wes Mason Nicholas Masters
Production: N. Muni (scenery), David Burdick (clothes), Japhy Weideman (lighting), David Zimmerman (hair/make-up)




Academy of Music
240 S Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102

Performance Schedule:

Friday, April 25, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 2:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 2, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 2:30 p.m.

Don Giovanni (Elliot Madore) and Donna Anna (Michelle Johnson)
in Opera Philadelphia’s new production of Don Giovanni.
Photo by Kelly and Massa © 2014 Opera Philadelphia.

There a lot of ways for directors to interpret Don Giovanni, the Mozart dramma giocoso that walks the line between comedy and tragedy. In telling the story of the libertine Spanish nobleman determined to bed every woman in Europe, director Nicholas Muni has reversed the usual method. Instead of showing the Don (Elliot Madore) as a frustrated, always-thwarted Lothario, Mr. Muni made him insatiable. In doing so, he attempted to show the Don as ultimately tragic, an ugly, insecure character who is ultimately a victim of his own “success” and his own at-large libido. This production, originally seen at the Cincinnati Opera, bowed at the Academy of Music on Friday night.

As conductor George Manahan dropped the first thundering chords of the overture, Don Ottavio was revealed prone on the stage beneath a portrait of Donna Anna. Behind a scrim, Leporello disguised his master as Ottavio, with red wig and green frock coat for that night’s assault on Anna’s virtue. And assault it was, premeditated, bold and ugly with some fine precision singing from the three leads. As the story developed. this Don was everywhere, adding women to his “catalogue” right and left. He fled from Donna Elvira (Amanda Majeski) He dallied with Zerlina (Cecilia Hall) And yes, he couldn’t help himself–his second attempt to rape Donna Anna (see the above photo) led to her recognition of him as her father’s murderer.

Mozart wrote two great tenor arias for Don Ottavio, inserting one (“Dalla su pace”) into the original Prague version of the opera and using the other (“Io mio tesoro”) in the work’s Vienna premiere. Here, both numbers were included, serving as a welcome showcase for David Portillo’s supple lyric tenor. “Io mio tesoro” was moved to the beginning of the second act, Its new position (for I’ve never heard it in this spot before) also meant that for once, this lovely number  did not slow the momentum of the show. It also proved an effective curtain-raiser, prefacing the Don’s dialogue with Leporello) that otherwise starts the act in media res.

Aside from the show’s three female leads, Mr. Madore’s Don dallied with a slew of sex partners. And true to the famous “catalogue” aria, they came in all shapes and sizes, from the typical young choral wenches present at the wedding of Masetto and Zerlina to  the raped and traumatized nun downstage during the Act I finale. The enthusiastic granny who shared the noble bed at the start of Act II proved to be an audience favorite. (She thwacked Leporello with a cane at the suggestion that the Don “give up women”.) Even Donna Elvira’s maid (usually an unseen character) appeared, a welcoming audience for “Deh viena alla finestra.”


A Don Giovanni with an emphasis on the jocularity by Steve CohenThe Opera Critic
Mozart: Don Giovanni
Opera Philadelphia
May 2014
Don Giovanni is titled a dramma giocoso. Most recent productions stress the drama, but this Nicholas Muni approach puts emphasis on the jocularity. He accomplishes this within the story of the licentious Don, some of whose actions are so outlandish that you have to laugh at them.The legendary rake Don Juan leaves a trail of discarded lovers and mayhem in his wake and he laughs at the havoc he has caused. I’ve always thought of him being past his prime at the time of the action, because he appears unsuccessful in some of his pursuits. But the director sees the Don as no more than his mid-twenties. The Catalogue aria says he’s had over two thousand conquests. If he started in his mid-teens, that would come to two hundred a year—and that does not seem unrealistic. Basketball star Wilt Chamberlain, after all, wrote that he had sex with 20,000 women, staying active into his sixties. “That equals out to having sex with 1.2 women a day since I was fifteen years old,” he bragged.To illustrate this thesis, Muni portrayed sexual encounters at places in the opera where none were specifically written. While Leporello and Giovanni were singing a duet on the street, for example, this production showed the Don having his way with a woman while he continued to talk with his servant. This Don also was shown to be drawn to many different types of women, including an older lady with a cane.Outrageous, you may say. But Don Giovanni is an outrageous person. He’s a sociopath who is indiscriminate in the women he seduces, and doesn’t pay attention to their feelings or desires, only his own. That’s the opera’s point.

The production doesn’t meddle with the place or time and it keeps the action flowing rapidly from indoor to outdoor locales. A plethora of picture frames serve a double purpose. They contain Goya-like images from Spain in the second half of the 18th century. The frames also epitomize Don Giovanni’s feeling that he’s penned in, restricted by society’s framework and moral codes.

Some options added humor and aid in our understanding of people’s choices. Donna Elvira, for instance, was shown getting drunk, which helped explain why she allowed herself to get involved once again with the duplicitous Don.

Even though I thought that Elliot Madore was youngish for the title role, he won me over with fine acting and good singing. His voice is smooth and attractive and his nuances were more than I had expected from a performer at his stage of development. The Leporello of Joseph Barron was believable and appealing. And David Portillo provided excellent vocalizing in Don Ottavio’s two arias.

As for the women, Michelle Johnson as Donna Anna displayed creamy high notes but a tame characterization. Amanda Majeski as Elvira had fine technique and glittering tone. Her vibrato made her sound a bit high-strung and jittery, which does suit her character. Cecilia Hall was a direct, no-nonsense Zerlina, the peasant girl who fools around with Don Giovanni on the very day of her wedding to Masetto (the sturdy Wes Mason) whom she says she loves. At least the Don “didn’t touch me where it counts,” or so she says.

George Manahan’s conducting was not all that it could have been. Pacing was often slow, and there was insufficient excitement.

Text © Steve Cohen
Photo © Dominic Mercier
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