Renard wrestles with interpreting a Russian folktale. Photo: Michael Cooper
DON GIOVANNI by Giuseppe Gazzaniga, directed by Tom Diamond, conducted by Steven Wilcox, and RENARD by Igor Stravinsky, directed by Serge Bennathan, conducted by Derek Bate (Canadian Opera Company). At the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opea Centre (227 Front East). June 18 and 20 at 7:30 pm, June 22 at 2 pm. $65. 416-363-8231. Rating: NNN
You won't find a greater contrast in operas -- or in production styles -- than in the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble's double bill of Don Giovanni and Renard.
The former predates the more famous Mozart version, and it's clear that Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte knew this shorter opera about the amorous Spaniard, whose exploits are so many that they must be catalogued. (And yes, there's a catalogue song in both works; it's a duet in the Gazzaniga.)
Director Tom Diamond gives equal attention to the comedy, the passion and the grimness of the piece (Giovanni's dragged off to hell for his indiscretions). The cast sings and acts well in the boulevard staging, a device which helps draw the audience, sitting on both sides of the stage, into the action. In the Mozart, we're used to hearing a dark voice as Giovanni, but in the Gazzaniga a tenor (Adam Luther) takes on the role, making the seducer more boyish, with a touch of innocence being part of the manipulative tricks he uses to entice women.
On the whole the characterizations aren't as deep as in Mozart, but Gazzaniga's score has some impressive numbers, including a vengeance aria for Duca Ottavio (Michael Barrett), several arias for the wronged Donna Elvira (Melinda Delorme) and a comic duet in which two of the Giovanni's conquests, Elvira and the peasant Maturina (the effervescent Lisa DiMaria), toss insults at and try to out-high-note each other. Gazzaniga's added another woman, Donna Ximena, to the list of conquests, and Erin Fisher gives her the right mix of jealousy and swooning.
Giovanni's servant Pasquariello (Jon-Paul Décosse) is more a clown than is Mozart's Leporello (Gazzaniga gives the don two servants, in fact), and here the comedy doesn't always work. Some of the music -- a toast to Venice, the city where the work premiered, and a supposedly funny finale in which the men mime playing instruments -- doesn't strike a sympathetic chord today.
But there's enough charm in the writing and strength in the performances to warrant a staging. Mozart it's not, but the Gazzaniga has its own worth.
There's more seduction in Renard, a Russian folktale-inspired piece about a hungry, wily fix trying to catch a cock for his next meal. Director Serge Bennathan sets the action in a Mexican wrestling ring, with all the gaudy, oversized action that the style demands. It works for a bit, but even at a running time of 15 minutes the joke is stretched thin. The music gets lost in all the macho preening and posing; why choose the piece when it becomes secondary to the stage business?
That said, tenors Luther and Barrett give a clever twist to their work as cock and fox, and they're supported by baritones Justin Welsh and Andrew Stewart as other wrestlers/barnyard critters.
In this match, the prize belt goes to the don.