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OPERA REVIEW

Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu

A PROVOCATIVE DON GIOVANNI AT MENDOCINO FESTIVAL

by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 18, 2014

At each Mendocino Music Festival a key evening is given over to a staged opera in the big tent, and last year Rossiniís frothy ďIl Signor BruschinoĒ was an audience hit but hardly comprehensive operatic fare.

Times change. Mozartís weighty opera Don Giovanni was given a propulsive but often confusing single performance July 18 before a sold out audience in the Festival tent.

Confusion began early with masked black-robed faces roaming the semi-bare stage and Dennis Rupp, performing the wonderful Leporello role, arriving in a costume akin to the Ballet Russe impresario Serge Diaghilev: swallow white shirt, red-colored glasses, tails and huge top hat. The Don, played by Eugene Brancoveanu, appeared to be a Jack Nicholson knockoff with sunglasses, open shirt and swagger. But there was not an aristocratic swagger in sight, just jumping about the stage and sporadically running up and down the aisle. It went on from there with the first scene death of the Commandatore caused not by the rapier thrust (as it said in the ill-timed and often wrong supertitles) but by the Don ripping away the oxygen cylinder and mask from the old man that arrived through the curtain in a wheel chair.

Many in the audience presumably loved the director Ďs vision of the cutesy and titillatingly long performance, but perhaps now itís best to turn to the meat of any operatic experience, the orchestra and the singing.

The singing, though forceful and playing to the directorís concepts, was never convincingly compelling. Tenor Sergio Gonzales, underpowered in the large space, was the most lyrical as Don Ottavio, and Masetto (unidentified in the program, and a baritone as is the Don) had vocal heft. Kelly Britt as Donna Anna, the Commandatoreís daughter, presented a character of palpable sympathy for the lecherous Don, mixed with vengeful hatred.

Success in this great opera stands or falls on the greatness of the Donís singing and his exciting repartee with his long-suffering servant Leparello. Mr. Brancoveanuís singing had excellent Italian diction, admirable athleticism and just a bit of the sinister. His voice was smooth in all registers but continually monochromatic and never gave this listener any notion of sly charm beneath the surface of his sexual license. The same role sung recently in the local Cinnabar Theater and Met HD Cast productions was compelling and made the Don almost likeable. Almost.

As in previous tent concerts the amplification was helpful for vocal volume and clarity of language, but it hampered sonic differentiation and made the voices of sopranos Zerlina (Adina Dorband) and a first act Donna Elvira (Youn Ryu) take on a brittle and shouting character.

Behind the minimal set Festival co-director Allan Pollack conducted with authority and generated a lively and balanced sound, though too often the playing lacked polish and tight ensemble. But it is a dramatic opera inside a busy festival and there was just a sole performance.

The eveningís program did not mention the names of the costume, lighting, choreography and set designers, and most crucially the name of the operaís director. The woman playing continuo for recitatives was also unidentified.