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Family Look-In: Don Giovanni

Mini-Critic at the OperaMaster Ionarts can now say that he has experienced the musicianship of Plácido Domingo, if not singing Siegmund (at five years old, Master Ionarts is not quite ready for Wagner in the theater) at least conducting. At the opening of Saturday afternoon's Family Look-In on Don Giovanni, the General Director of Washington National Opera not only appeared on the podium but gave an informative yet child-sized introduction to the music heard in the opera's overture and again in the Stone Guest scene. Maestro Domingo spoke nostalgically of his childhood growing up in the theater -- his parents were both zarzuela singers -- and he was clearly delighted to be giving the children in the Kennedy Center Opera House the chance to share that gift. That one of the busiest, most celebrated artists in the opera world today would set aside his time for such an event speaks volumes about Domingo's dedication to ensuring the succession of the next generation of opera audiences.

Don Giovanni does not suggest itself naturally to a young audience. After hearing me relate an expurgated account of the title character's misdeeds, Master Ionarts signaled his understanding by whispering in my ear, "Everything that Giovanni does is a no-no." Naturally, Maureen Bunyan's narration skirted around the Don's sexual crimes, and the violence and supernatural events in the story were treated carefully. Like many children in the theater, Master Ionarts was very frightened by the statue of Il Commendatore, both when it nodded in the graveyard and when it came to dinner with Don Giovanni. When we talked about the opera later, however, he agreed that Don Giovanni needed a punishment more severe than a time-out, because he would not even say that he was sorry.

The selection of sung scenes, other than those already mentioned, included the duel in which Don Giovanni kills Il Commendatore, the first scene with Donna Elvira and Don Giovanni, and the party scene (minus the chorus and on-stage instrumentalists). Of course, the staging was reduced, and to save money there was a cut-rate cast list and no chorus. Except for Ildar Abdrazakov, who sings Don Giovanni in the B cast, most All of the singers were drawn from the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists performance the previous evening. The action was interrupted periodically by members of the creative team, who explained and demonstrated aspects of what makes opera work, such as lighting, fight choreography, set changes, and recitative. This is the second Family Look-In for Master Ionarts (the first time was in 2005 for Porgy and Bess), and he has enjoyed them both immensely. We congratulate Washington National Opera on the program and encourage them to continue it in future seasons.


Anonymous said...

Delighted that you and young Master Ionarts enjoyed the performance! One quibble: the rascally Don was played not by Ildar Abdrazakov, but by Trevor Scheunemann, a former Young Artist singing Masetto in the grownup version.

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks for the correction, which I have noted in the review. I now realize that when I thought I was recognizing Don Giovanni from seeing Abdrazakov as Leporello in the A cast last month, I was actually remembering Trevor Scheunemann, who was Masetto. Sorry for the confusion!