“Grand” is an interesting word. It more than describes the magnitude of greatness embodied in opera at its best. For the Florida Grand Opera, “grand” is also the central word of a cultural moniker that understands the relationship between greatness and size. In opera, drama, song, music and set design are all out-sized, beyond big, epic in scale. The same is true for the emotional draw opera has on fans across the world.
When it comes to striving for greatness, few operas match Don Giovanni in ambition and scope, as well as musical achievement. With music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, Don Giovanni is rendered into a colorful and exquisitely musical spectacle on the stage. The recent production by the Florida Grand Opera, premiering at the Arsht Center in Miami and making its way to Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts, makes for a superbly pristine look at a story and its music that is permanently part of the art form’s lore.
The story of Don Giovanni, AKA Don Juan, represents a fascinating look at the original womanizer in European literature. In the Florida Grand Opera’s recent production Don Giovanni is no more and no less the notorious womanizer of the past. It is interesting and curious both that in the midst of today’s #MeToo! movement, the ribald humor and sublime music of this classic opera continue to overwhelm audiences.
I saw no boycotts and no social media protests online.
Interestingly, there were rumors from advanced publicity that the director of the production, Mo Zhou’s, may integrate some feminist elements in the story line as well as in the set. It is hard to say if this was actually achieved in the performance I saw, and frankly, any contemporary political license injected into this opera would likely be nothing short of a gawdy and mawkish travesty. Thankfully the set design was streamlined and elegant, with no sense of any arduous agenda-pushing.
What I did see was a sensational performance by the principle singers and supporting players. The FGO’s set design veered from the minimal to the elegantly grandiose with just the right touches of splendor and brooding light thrown in to keep the audience apace with the story line.
And what a story line it is!
There is seduction. There is heartbreak. There is farce and there is sadness. If that sounds like your standard daytime soap opera episode well,… you are not far off. Don Giovanni is a classic opera not because it is replete with the highs and lows that make for great dram and comedy in story-telling. No. What makes this work so majestic and somewhat timeless (#MeToo! not withstanding) is Mozart’s stunning music. Make no mistake, it is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who is the star of this spectacle. Everyone else is enveloped in the maestro’s greatness like a warm blanket wrapping shivering little kiddies on a cold January night.
Elliot Madore was cast as the title player in this exquisitely complex story and he was up to the challenge with his lustily advanced performance. I write “lustily” in many senses of the word, from the point of view of both an appetite for drama and a hunger for passion. Mr. Madore’s Don Giovanni was a sublime way to enter this evening’s complex array of vocal renditions.
As Donna Elvira, Elizabeth Caballero was up to the challenge opposite Mr. Madore’s performance. Her delightful passion and turbulent portrayal made for an evening of emotions that take one back to a more innocent understanding of love and sexual desire. In fact, the interplay of sexuality and love are really the core of this sublime opera and I am happy to report that the Florida Grand Opera’s production on this night elevated this extraordinarily complex dynamic into poetry.