In reviving the 1991 production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni," the Los Angeles Music Center Opera managed to make the work even darker and more comic than the earlier version. It thus heightened the contrast even more strongly between those seemingly disparate attributes of "dramma giocoso" (jocular drama) librettist Lorenzo da Ponte used to describe the work.
In Tuesday's performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Thomas Allen, who also sang Don Giovanni in 1991, showed some vocal wear, which added aspects of world-weariness as well as mature gamesmanship to the role. At the same time, Allen maintained the earlier dangerous and complex social stance of his character, always singing with intelligence and point.
Most of the other principals were newcomers to the company.
The admirable Metropolitan Opera basso Paul Plishka, making his first appearance with L.A. Opera, sang and acted Leporello with vivid, detailed nuance. Less an alter ego for the Don than a kinsman to Papageno, this Leporello seemed thoroughly human and injected lively credibility into everything he did. He did much to introduce buffo elements without resorting to any caricature.
In her first role with Music Center Opera, Joanna Kozlowska brought luscious, creamy vocalism to Donna Elvira, seemingly effortlessly ascending the heights and achieving them without any biting attack.
Her characterization evoked both sympathy and in the increasingly more self-righteous moments exactly the sense of comic exasperation Giovanni directed toward her. This Elvira may say she is retiring from life in the final scene, but the way she brings Giovanni's wine cup to her lips indicates that wherever she goes, his memory will always be with her.
Making both her U.S. and local company debut, the Odessa-born Elena Prokina sang Donna Anna, replacing Anna Tomowa-Sintow, who had withdrawn from the production in August because of illness (canceling several months of appearances, according to a company spokesman).
Prokina has a coltish attractiveness and a bright, agile, if edgy and sometimes glassy soprano. Again, this Anna nearly swooned in Giovanni's arms moments after he apparently had raped her. But this Anna also appeared oddly remote and self-preoccupied in the sentiments and well-executed coloratura passages of "Non mi dir," as if she didn't mind very much keeping Don Ottavio at bay.
No wonder Thomas Randle, making his debut with Music Center Opera as Don Ottavio, acted with out-sized, impetuous and frustrated ardor. Alas, vocally he too often emphasized dramatic urgency over finesse. In neither of the famous tenor arias did he set any standards for vocal beauty.
Company regular John Atkins repeated his robust, sympathetic characterization of Masetto. A poised, almost aristocratic Paula Rasmussun sang Zerlina for the first time, offering cautious and mono-faceted vocalism. Both Rasmussen and Randle offered discreet embellishments in their arias. Louis Lebherz again sang the Commendatore strongly.
Conductor Lawrence Foster, another veteran of 1991, presided knowingly over a sympathetic and expanded Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Again, the recitatives became unusually fraught with plot significance, an occasional pause only heightening the dramatic tension.
The original production was based on a conception for the Maggio Musicale in Florence by Jonathan Miller. Staging duties here again fell to Karen Stone, who had worked with Miller on the original. Robert Israel's movable, expressionistic sets and, presumably, Karl Friedrich Oberle's 18th-Century costumes (Oberle was not credited in the program booklet) again contributed to the dark seriousness of the production.
The opening night cast will be heard on all subsequent dates except Oct. 11 and 14, when Rodney Gilfry is scheduled to sing the title role.
* Los Angeles Music Center Opera will present Mozart's "Don Giovanni" on Friday , and on Oct. 2, 5, 11 and 14 at 7:30 p.m., and on Oct. 8 at 1 p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. Tickets: $21-$115. Information: (213) 972-7211.