Review of Don Giovanni at Winter Opera Saint Louis

    At the start of the second act, the title character in Mozart’s Don Giovanni tries to further his seduction of Donna Elvira’s maid by swapping identities with his servant, Leporello. In the splendid recent production by Winter Opera Saint Louis, Don Giovanni’s dark, flowing wig was part of the exchange. The nobleman revealed his bald head when he flipped the hairpiece to the servant.

    This scene is worth mentioning for two reasons. First, its delightful comedy was typical of the production. Stage director John Stephens paid close attention to the opportunities for humor while presenting the story with admirable clarity. Also, Don Giovanni’s nonchalance about his baldness was a stunning example of his utter self-assurance. It was fully embodied in Jacob Lassiter’s swaggering performance. As Leporello, Robert Mellon was a master comedian throughout.

    Gina Galati turned in a highly sympathetic interpretation of Donna Elvira, who pursues Don Giovanni after he betrayed her. Robyn Marie Lamp captured Donna Anna’s fiery anger over Don Giovanni’s murder of her father, the Commendatore. When he reappeared as a statue, the Commendatore was a figure of fearsome authority in Nathan Whitson’ sonorous performance.

    Raphaella Medina was a charmer as the peasant girl Zerlina. Her fiancé, Masetto, and Donna Anna’s fiancé, Don Ottavio, were earnest and attentive in the fine portrayals by Mark Hosseini (Masetto) and Nicholas Huff (Don Ottavio).

    The principals all sang beautifully, as did the chorus under Jesse Cunningham. Conductor Scott Schoonover led the orchestra in a gripping account of the score.

    A traditional setting for the action was established by Jen Blum-Tatara’s costumes, Laura Skroska’s properties, and Jessica Dana’s wigs and makeup.  In Scott Loebl’s scenic design, the performance space was flanked by two stately buildings whose fluted columns had ornate capitals. Rather than representing specific settings, the structures established a flexible background for all the opera’s scenes. One of the facades included a platform whose purpose did not become clear until the unexpected opening of its front panel in the next-to-last scene. Don Giovanni’s descent to hell in through this portal was eerily illuminated in Michael Sullivan’s lighting.

    The set featured two of Loebl’s trademark backdrops. The one closer to audience descended twice during the action to allow scenery to be changed. The drop’s second ascent was a striking moment. It revealed the imposing, all-white funerary monument with the statue that accepts Don Giovanni’s invitation to dinner.

    Winter Opera’s season continues in 2024 with Manon Lescaut on January 19 and 21 and Naughty Marietta on March 1 and 3.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Peter Wochniak, ProPhotoSTL
    Standing, Jacob Lassiter as Don Giovanni; kneeling, Robert Mellon as Leporello.