Portland Opera’s Don Giovanni

Earlier this year, my dad took me to several encore showings of the Metropolitan Opera in High Definition at a local movie theater. We saw Verdi’s Ernani and Masseneti’s Manon. I was surprised how much I liked it — the elaborate sets, the beautiful costumes, the magnificent drama.

This past summer, when my husband and I watched all of the Academy Award Winners for Best Picture since 1979, we saw the movie Amadeus. Although he is definitely not an opera fan, he expressed an interest in seeing one of Mozart’s operas. Naturally, I held him accountable. When I learned that the Portland Opera was performing Mozart’s 1787 opera Don Giovanni as their 2012-2013 season opener, I quickly snatched up two tickets before he could change his mind.

This two-act opera is considered by many to be one of the greatest operas of all time. It is part comedy, part tragedy, with an anti-hero in the leading role. Don Giovanni is a serial womanizer. His servant, Leporello, keeps a list of all the women Don Giovanni has seduced, which currently totals 2,065 (yes, there’s even a song in the opera about that). In the opening scene, a masked Giovanni seduces Donna Anna. When he refuses to remove his mask, she cries to her father for help. Her father, the Commendatore, challenges Giovanni to a duel and Giovanni kills him.

Donna Anna and her fiancé Don Ottavio vow vengeance to the Commendatore’s killer. Don Giovanni goes on to seduce other women, introducing a further cast of characters, while vengeance is sought. In the end, the Commendatore returns from the grave to drag an unrepentant Don Giovanni to hell. The moral of the story, sung in the final scene is “Such is the end of the evildoer: the death of a sinner always reflects his life.”

This is the first live opera that I’ve attended in person, so I was incredibly excited to attend to begin with and wasn’t disappointed. I was surprised by how young the cast appeared to be, but I thought they did a fine job, although at times it was a bit challenging to tell a few of them a part (for example, all of the female leads were petite brunettes). Mozart’s score was fantastic, and while the libretto was in Italian, the English translations were projected on a screen above the stage. I had a bit of a hard time shifting my focus from stage to screen, so I am sure I missed a bit of the dialogue, but I could follow the storyline from the performers’ dramatics.

I also thought the art direction was spectacular. Although the set was fairly sparse compared to what you’d find at the Metropolitan Opera, it was versatile and worked well with the choreography. I loved how the lighting made use of shadows, and a large cross was illuminated on stage a various times throughout the performance.

The Portland Opera has 6 levels of seating, making their performances accessible to a wide variety of budgets. We quickly learned that the online tickets from Ticketmaster had obscene service charges and there’s also a surcharge of $6 per ticket for tickets purchased over the phone. We opted to save money and by our tickets at the Portland Opera box office on SE Caruthers, and only paid a $1 surcharge for our $45 tickets. We sat on the far right of the orchestra section, 20 rows from the stage, and had a fairly decent view. However, I do wish I had remembered to bring my small binoculars with me.

We also opted for an early dinner at the Keller Auditorium’s café. They featured a special buffet menu with seasonal, local ingredients for $22 per person, and everything we sampled was delicious. I especially loved the cheese tortellini with roasted garlic nage and winter squash garnish. They also have a selection of martinis and wines by the glass, including wine and spirits produced in Oregon.

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