Mozart purists are likely to be turned off by the set for Chicago Opera Theater’s revival of Don Giovanni: the stark backdrop, designed by Todd Rosenthal, evokes the rusty basement of an industrial plant, with the only exit a narrow staircase that seems to ascend to nowhere. But it fits logically into director Charles Newell’s vision of a Don Juan already in hell. Throughout the opera he’s presented as a tormented figure, reveling in his own excesses yet self-aware enough to wish for an end to the cycle of empty libidinous outbursts. Those who succumb to his charms, willingly or begrudgingly, vent their spleens in front of a scrim–demanding full attention and sympathy from the audience. This take from Newell, a theater director on only his second opera assignment, is decidedly unorthodox, perhaps closer to Joseph Losey’s bleak, brooding film version than to the standard-issue stagings favored by conservative opera houses. There are no happy peasants or lavish banquets here for atmosphere, and the main characters, details, and emotions emerge the more vividly for their absence. The most compelling is, rightfully, the volatile, reckless playboy as portrayed by baritone Samuel Mungo, whose dashing presence relieves us of having to suspend disbelief. His voice is lighter than that of Samuel Ramey, the premier Giovanni of our day, but Mungo uses it with style and emotional heft. As his smart-ass servant Leporello, Philip Ross comes across more as an avuncular counselor than the customary long-suffering Giovanni wannabe. Among the ladies, soprano Elizabeth Carter as Donna Anna displays both the most supple voice and the most intelligent approach to a damsel seeking justice. The chamber orchestra is conducted by Alexander Platt. About that set again: it allows for a strikingly ingenious appearance of the vengeful Commendatore. Saturday, 7:30 PM, Merle Reskin Theatre, 60 E. Balbo; 773-292-7578. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Dan Rest.