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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Saturday Night: Mozart's "Don Giovanni" at San Francisco Parlor Opera

Posted By on Sun, May 16, 2010 at 7:16 PM

Elizabeth O'Neill as Zerlina and Kurt Krikorian as Masetto - BETSY KERSHNER
  • Betsy Kershner
  • Elizabeth O'Neill as Zerlina and Kurt Krikorian as Masetto
Cole Grissom as Don Giovanni - BETSY KERSHNER
  • Betsy Kershner
  • Cole Grissom as Don Giovanni

Cole Grissom as Don Giovanni and Elizabeth O'Neill as Zerlina - BETSY KERSHNER
  • Betsy Kershner
  • Cole Grissom as Don Giovanni and Elizabeth O'Neill as Zerlina
This production also deserves credit for knowing when enough modernization is enough. Aside from a couple of gratuitous Tiger Woods jabs in the pre-scene narration, the conceit never feels like it's being forced beyond its natural limits. Baritone Cole Grissom as the titular playboy (a rumored descendant, we're told, of Don Juan of Seville) exudes the upscale-sleazy amorality that makes this such an enduring role -- to some extent, a rake is a rake is a rake. (Though he was excellent as a conflicted man of God in last fall's Thaïs, Grissom seems happiest in roles -- such as Giovanni, or Mephistopheles in Faust -- that have some truck with the underworld.) Soprano Patricia Urbano turns in another powerhouse performance as Donna Elvira, the very archetype of woman scorned -- highly accomplished arias about the treachery of men never go out of date.  And as for bass-baritone Steven Hoffman's capable Commendatore, well, only so many artistic liberties can be taken with statues that drag sinners off to hell.

Other roles receive inspired updates.  Baritone Igor Vieira as Leporello, Giovanni's one-man entourage, totes around a man-purse containing nothing but the notebook documenting his employer's female conquests (apparently tallying the ladies with a spreadsheet or an iPhone app would be too dehumanizing). One of the best vocalists this company has enlisted, Vieira has great vicarious fun with the famous "Mille e tre," detailing Giovanni's activities for an incredulous Elvira with all the tacky zest of a TMZ blogger.  (His considerable talents were only engaged for the first two performances of this run, but he will soon be seen as Happy in San Francisco Opera's upcoming La Fanciulla del West.)

Don Ottavio, the officious beau of one of Giovanni's rejects, can easily be a role that's neither here nor there. Tenor Justin Marsh rescues it with his brilliant portrayal of Ottavio as an image-conscious, thoroughly mediocre politician -- the kind of guy who, if he plays his cards right, might aspire to the lieutenant governorship one day. Ottavio's aria "Il mio tesoro" is supposedly a sincere expression of his love for the high-strung Donna Anna (a suitably histrionic Kristen Brown) and a vow to avenge her father's death. Before he begins, Marsh makes sure to adjust his hair and suit just so, and departs at the aria's conclusion with a camera-ready grin and wave to his public.

Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth O'Neill as Zerlina and tenor Kurt Krikorian as Masetto, the common folk who have the misfortune to be waylaid by Giovanni on their wedding day, seem to draw their inspiration from Jerry Springer's guests. No wholesome peasants they, Masetto sports a wife-beater and baggy jeans (from which he later produces an impressive arsenal of small arms), while Zerlina goes in for a biker-chic aesthetic. Both have cheesy temporary tats galore. Grissom and O'Neill's version of the seduction duet, "Là ci darem la mano," is possibly the only one on record that begins with Giovanni tweaking Zerlina's Daisy Dukes-clad rear. This Zerlina probably relishes the prospect of the impeachment of her virtue, realizing that she can parlay it into a National Enquirer exclusive and a gig hosting a C-list reality TV show.

Patricia Urbano as Donna Elvira - BETSY KERSHNER
  • Betsy Kershner
  • Patricia Urbano as Donna Elvira
The action moves between the backyard and basement of SF Parlor Opera's "home studio" at 1652 Hayes, and, more than any of their previous productions, makes excellent use of the performance space -- balconies, staircases, doorways, garden alcoves.  (This approach is not without hazards; the sprinkler system decided to activate for opening night, and an energetic outdoor scene on Saturday toppled a speaker perilously close to assistant music director Kevin Korth's keyboard.) But it speaks well of the company's spirit that these mishaps are treated as additions to the show's zeitgiest rather than detractions from its gravitas.

Critic's Notebook
By the way: Remaining performances are May 20 and 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $55 ($25 for students with I.D.); wine and a dessert reception are included.  Sung in Italian, without subtitles -- but an eminently qualified narrator provides synopses of the scenes to follow. Visit for more information.

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Emily Hilligoss


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