As Giovanni, Don Mariusz Kwiecien woos soprano Andriana Chuchman
  • Michael Brosilow
  • As Giovanni, Don Mariusz Kwiecien woos soprano Andriana Chuchman

The announcement that Robert Falls would be directing Don Giovanni , the opener for Lyric Opera’s 60th season, was reason to hope that this 18th-century staple of the repertoire would get a shakeup that would really make it click with a 21st-century audience.

That didn’t happen. Falls does give it a nudge, however. He’s pushed the Spanish setting to the 1920s. And he’s introduced so much coke snorting and erotic pawing you might think you’re at Chicago Opera Theater. But that’s the easy stuff. It would take a more revolutionary treatment to keep this farcical/gothic morality play of a libretto, by Lorenzo Da Ponte, and its repetitive musical format from the occasional dip into tedium.The kind of treatment that would have purists up in arms.

So Falls has delivered a very pretty but basically traditional version of a Mozart opera that, arguably, could end at intermission. With the exception of a couple of arresting pieces of stagecraft—the statue that comes to life, the descent into hell—what (besides, of course, the music) would be lost? Falls has said that his intention was to bring 20th-century psychology to the work, but Da Ponte’s Giovanni is so thoroughly worthless, and such a lightweight, even his rebellious refusal to repent can’t make him interesting.

As a result, Falls’s most dramatic gesture (I won’t give it away), an attempt to bring the story’s wages-of-sin-is-death message home to the audience, also misses its mark. We know what he’s after, but we don’t feel it.

Meanwhile, the musical performances—by a cast that includes baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as Giovanni; sopranos Ana María Martínez, Andriana Chuchman, and Marina Rebeka as his furious conquests; and, especially, tenor Antonio Poli as the designated avenger, Don Ottavio—are excellent, as is the Lyric chorus and the orchestra, conducted by Andrew Davis. Kudos too, to the most contemporary part of the production: Colin Ure’s conversational English supertitles (it’s sung in Italian).

Performances continue at 7:30 PM tonight.

Don Giovanni Through Wed 10/29, various times, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244,, $29-$249.