Friday, August 17, 2018
Stage

Don Giovanni is a wicked winner to close out Opera Tampa's season

TAMPA — Opera Tampa concludes its season this weekend by going for broke with Don Giovanni and certainly the most lavish set this year, not to mention a world-class baritone in the title role.

The Florida Opera Festival, three productions over three months at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, reminds us with this one what an asset the program is for the Tampa Bay area. The effort also dimly hints at ambitions that might yet be conceived, heights that one day may be achieved. This Don Giovanni has not been modernized nor adorned with video imagery, as some companies have chosen to do. Apart from some pyrotechnics at the end, this is a straightforward treatment.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the company has gone all out, giving an immortal opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as much punch as possible. Based on the legend of Don Juan and written by librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, the story centers on opera's greatest rogue. It opens darkly with an attempted rape of Donna Anna (sung with chiseled delicacy by Rocio Ignacio) by Spanish nobleman Don Giovanni, followed by the murder of the victim's father, who intervened at the cost of his life.

That scene introduces an oddly endearing pair, the villain and his hapless servant. As Leporello, who must reluctantly cover for his master's misdeeds, David Cushing takes advantage of one of the opera's more finely drawn roles, and with a solid bass baritone delivery.

Carlos Alvarez as Giovanni delivers an unforgettable performance, thanks to his profoundly gorgeous baritone pipes. A major star still at the top of his game, Alvarez alternates in the opening scene between the faintest blurry edges and the purest of tones, and only gets better from there. A particularly accessible example: Giovanni's serenade to the chambermaid of Donna Elvira, his discarded lover at the start of Act II.

A fine cast of principals reacts to Giovanni's felonious deeds. Kenneth Kellogg as Il Commendatore, the father who dies in Act I, serves Giovanni a chilling comeuppance from beyond the grave, dragging the unrepentant and committed hedonist to hell in a bedrock, if somewhat gravelly, bass. Not long before that, Miriam Khalil as Donna Elvira masters a difficult love-hate aria with a tragic urgency.

Three pillars of this year's season will surely be missed. Cecilia Violetta Lopez (who played Violetta in La Traviata) again anchored a major role with vocal richness as the peasant girl Zerlina, whom Giovanni hopes to add to his list of conquests. Cody Austin, a bell clear tenor, and Gabriel Preisser play the good-hearted but outwitted suitors Don Ottavio and Masetto in a way that shows they care about performance as well as hitting the money notes.

Meanwhile, artistic director and conductor Daniel Lipton again brings out the passion from a full orchestra and chorus. Before Friday's performance, Straz Center president and CEO Judith Lisi announced the lineup for Opera Tampa's 2016-17 season to an appreciative audience.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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