Dynamic duo rules SF Opera’s ‘Don Giovanni’

Mozart’s masterpiece “Don Giovanni” makes it quite clear it’s a man’s world. And two powerhouse bass-baritones, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (in the title role) and Erwin Schrott (as his servant) left no doubt in the Jacopo Spirei-directed production that opened Sunday at War Memorial Opera House that the world belongs to the powerful, libertine Don; everyone else just lives in it.

Prior to the start, General Director Matthew Shilvock announced that D’Arcangelo was not feeling his best. It was hard to tell; his full-throated, agile performance captured the virile essence of the louche Spanish nobleman. His Don could have seduced just about any woman, judging by the way he wooed Zerlina in the smoothly delivered Act 1 duet “La ci darem la mano,” and in his Act 2 serenade “Deh, vieni alla finestra.”

Schrott, making his company debut, as was D’Arcangelo, was outstanding as the Don’s complex, though all-too-human, servant Leporello.

He dispatched the famous Act 1 basso buffo showpiece “Madamina” fluidly and with great resonance (delightfully cataloging his master’s continent-wide amorous conquests) and was a dynamic match for D’Arcangelo, including in the Act 2 opening duet “Eh via, buffone.” He energetically held his own against his array of accusers in the act’s sextet.

The cast deftly negotiated the stage amid moving reflective panels on which somewhat distracting projections of the characters periodically appeared; there was no smoke but plenty of mirrors when the Don made his descent into the eternal flames of hell near the end.

Sopranos Ana Maria Martinez as Donna Elvira and Sarah Shafer as Zerlina made favorable impressions.

Martinez seamlessly polished off “Mi tradi quell’ alma ingrata,” the apex Act 2 aria of fury and pity for the woman scorned by, yet committed to, the skirt-chasing Don.

As the comely peasant girl, Shafer opened up nicely to touchingly reassure her fiancé Masetto that she is faithful in the Act 1 aria “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto.”

As Donna Anna, soprano Erin Wall, though largely clear-voiced and moving, struggled a bit in her taxing Act 1 aria “Or sai chi l’onore.”

Company warhorse, bass Andrea Silvestrelli, was a standout as the Commendatore, Donna Anna’s father who the Don slays early on but comes back to exact revenge in statuesquely stentorian style.

Bass-baritone Michael Sumuel gave a solid performance as the jealous, suffering Masetto, while tenor Stanislas de Barbeyrac made for an appealing suitor to Donna Anna as Don Ottavio.

In his SFO debut, conductor Marc Minkowski opened with a brisk account of the overture before settling into a sensible tempo, while Ian Robertson’s chorus was indispensable in its supporting role.

Don Giovanni
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. June 8, June 13, June 16, June 21, June 24 and June 30; 2 p.m. June 11
Tickets: $26 to $398
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

James Ambroff-Tahan

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