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Utah Opera has gone to the movies for its season closer, a production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" reimagined as a 1950s film noir.
Director Kristine McIntyre's 21st-century conception fits the 1787 masterpiece so well, it's a little surprising no one else has done it before. McIntyre not only has made savvy staging choices that bring the opera's ideas closer to home for modern audiences including a surprise twist ending, which isn't easy to pull off when almost everyone in the opera house already knows how the story ends she also collaborated on the smart black-and-white costume design with Utah Opera's Verona Green.
Baritone Joshua Hopkins brings unsettling charisma to the title role, singing stylishly and earning laughs from Saturday night's crowd even when the character behaves cruelly. (Charm takes Don Giovanni only so far, though; the opening-night audience gave Hopkins a hearty round of boos at the final curtain.) He also paints a startlingly clear picture of the antihero's mental disintegration over the course of the opera.
Bass-baritone Matthew Burns is equally charming as the Don's long-suffering sidekick, Leporello; the two men are so well-matched physically and vocally that their pranking of Donna Elvira late in the show is completely plausible.
The stately pace of Mozart's score makes facial acting especially important, and Utah Opera's two Donnas, Anna (Melinda Whittington) and Elvira (Caitlin Lynch), deliver performances of emotional resonance along with their powerhouse vocals. Mezzo Sarah Coit brings spirit and spunk to the role of the young bride Zerlina, singing all three of her flirtatious arias most beguilingly. Baritone Markel Reed is highly sympathetic as Masetto, Zerlina's fiancé, struggling to maintain dignity in the face of the abuse Don Giovanni directs at him. Seasonal allergies gave a ragged edge to Aaron Blake's voice Saturday night, but the tenor's elegant phrasing more than compensated.
Bass Richard Wiegold, as the Commendatore, is as scary as an older gentleman in pajamas can be (which is quite scary, as it turns out). He, Hopkins and Burns make gripping drama of the opera's climactic confrontation, amplified by some truly terrifying singing from the men of the Utah Opera Chorus.
The Utah Symphony, led by a stellar woodwind section, gives a first-rate performance of Mozart's luscious score under the direction of Christopher Larkin, who conducts from the harpsichord.
Because this is noir, several characters smoke herbal cigarettes; the odor isn't noticeable most of the time, but those with sensitivities might want to sit farther from the stage.
The stone guest
Utah Opera closes its season with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte's "Don Giovanni." The opera is sung in Italian, with Supertitles.
When • Reviewed Saturday, May 13; continues at 7:30 p.m. May 15, 17 and 19, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, May 21
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $21-$92; utahopera.org
Running time • Approximately 3 hours, including intermission
In a nutshell • Don Giovanni starts his day with murder and attempted rape, then must contend with an angry ex-lover. How long can the legendary libertine evade justice?
Note • Patrons with sensitivities to scents or smoke should be aware that herbal cigarettes are smoked onstage.
Learn more • Principal coach Carol Anderson will lecture an hour before curtain, and artistic director Christopher McBeth will lead a Q&A after each performance, all in the Capitol Room on the theater's west side. Background reading at utahopera.org/onlinelearning.