Opera review: 'Don Giovanni' a treat for the senses

Wineke: Performers on top of game in Madison Opera

MADISON, Wis. - You have to hand it to Don Juan; the dude was quite a hit with the ladies.

And when the Madison Opera took up his cause in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" this weekend, the legendary libertine showed why.

Kelly Markgraf, who made his Madison Opera debut Friday, filled the Overture Center stage, not just with his voice but with never-stop action. It wasn't hard to see that the women of the cast might fall in love with him.

The story involves the nobleman Don Giovanni, who boasts proudly of his hundreds of female conquests and who begins the opera by killing the commendatore, father of his latest prize.

His servant, Leporello, is appalled by Giovanni's excesses, but sticks by him with some degree of loyalty as Giovanni goes on to betray a former lover, Donna Elvira, tries to seduce a young bride, Zerlina, and casts a hungry eye at every other woman on stage.

Matt Boehler, Leporello, may have the best voice in the cast and he is convincing in his role. Boehler was a featured artist at last summer's Opera in the Park.

Caitlin Lynch also sang at Opera in the Park last summer and does a wonderful job as Elvira, a woman who can't stop re-falling in love with Giovanni.

Rounding out the cast are John Arnold, singing the role of Masetto (he formerly sang the role of Galileo for the opera), Zerlina's jealous fiancé; Elizabeth Caballero, Donna Anna, the woman Giovanni seduced in the opening moments of the opera; Wesley Rogers, Don Ottavio, Donna Anna's real fiancé -- see, it gets a bit confusing; and Nathan Stark, the commendatore.

The thing about this opera is none of these roles is minor. Each of the performers had to be on his or her game to keep up. They were and they did.

As did the Madison Symphony. Guest conductor Joseph Mechavich kept Mozart's familiar music in play. Given all the action on stage and given the universality of Mozart, it is easy to overlook just how good this orchestra is.

Once again -- as it was in the midwinter performances of "Acis and Galeteria," the staging was remarkable.

The set consisted essentially of some rolling walls in front of a huge flower that filled the stage. Rather than having scene changes, actors just pushed the walls back and forth, changing the area of emphasis without changing a bit of the set. The lighting of the flower changed with the mood of the music. It was all very imaginative and it all worked.

Given that Giovanni is escorted to hell in the final scene, with the fact that the theater carried a not-subtle aroma of molten asphalt from the construction of the new Madison Public Library next door, actually added to the authenticity of the opera.

So, what we have is yet another first-rate performance, one well worth seeing.

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