Neil Craighead shows off his pal's conquests to Miriam Khalil in #UncleJohn.
#UNCLEJOHN by Mozart, adapted by Joel Ivany (Against the Grain). At the Black Box Theatre (1087 Queen West). December 19 at 7:30 pm. $40. againstthegraintheatre.ticketleap.com. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN
You might not expect to find the word "douche," the hookup app Tinder and a Swiss Chalet Festive Special in an opera. But Against the Grain isn't your typical opera company; it makes fresh adaptations of classic works for aficionados and those new to the art form.
#UncleJohn is ATG artistic director Joel Ivany's clever English update of Mozart's Don Giovanni, about the archetypal philanderer who gets his comeuppance. The title character (Cameron McPhail), along with his wingman, Leporello (Neil Craighead), is set to crash the wedding of Zerlina (Sharleen Joynt) and Masetto (Aaron Durand), but first runs into caterer Anna (Betty Allison), her father (John Avey), her fiancé, Ottavio (Sean Clark), and clingy ex Elvira (Miriam Khalil).
The libretto's logic isn't as tidy as that for the company's delightful Figaro's Wedding, based on another Mozart opera. But who cares when there are so many imaginative touches? Leporello's catalogue aria - a recounting of John's conquests - includes references to social media platforms, and John's mock serenade to Elvira in the second act is done, and sung, via text. Brilliant.
The show's staging at the Black Box Theatre makes it seem like we're at a wedding. Ivany, who also directs, deploys the performers like the guests and workers at nuptials. And the head table's tablecloth helps hide characters for some farcical moments.
The orchestra - Miloš Repický on piano and the Cecilia String Quartet - gets a big workout, including when Leporello has them accompany him on Hey John (to Hey Jude) and Let It Go, Wedding Singer style. And the performers are generally good, although Allison's Anna seems to sing at the same full force throughout.
Khalil's Elvira is suitably bitter yet oddly sympathetic, Avey brings lots of power to his wronged dad, and Clark's Ottavio, a sweet-voiced cop, is clearly smitten with his fiancée. Joynt and Durand are delightful as the young couple and give the show a warmth and heart the opera often lacks.
Craighead's Leporello has authority and charm, and McPhail, who moves with grace and ease throughout the space, has the swagger of a modern-day player. Both their voices are superb.
Don Giovanni is frequently done; the Canadian Opera Company revives it next month. But you won't find a version as funny or relevant as this one.