If we take strictly the early name of opera, “dramma per musica,” Mozart and DaPonte’s Don Giovanni is a prime example; the drama is not just presented but produced through the music, above all the sung music. A semi-staged performance of the opera on April 30 (and May 1) at St. Peters Parish Hall by the FF Collective, led by Tasha Hokuao Koontz (see Sandpiper April 2022), enabled the audience to experience the often violent conflict of passions of its characters in an exceptional way. Because it was presented with minimal scenery, costumes and stage business, but with crystal clear singing and brilliant facial and gestural expressions, one could follow the action more precisely than in a big-stage full production. Mozart conveys the import of each phrase with his music, essential for solo arias, but this effect is magnified in the exceptionally many scenes in which characters interact intensely, in duos, trios and groups up to six, in which each person has her own thoughts, passions, melodies and rhythms. To sort this conjoint action out, psychologically-and-musically, in a full production has always been a challenge for me. This was the first time I felt I was getting all or most of it.
The performers were moreover marvelous singers and actors, and they were acting, reacting, throughout. The interplay of Donna Anna (Tasha Koontz) and Don Ottavio (Dave Margulis) revealed a complex relationship, while that of Zerlina (Sarah-Nicole Carter) and Masetto (Brandon Morales) suggested depth and nuance usually lost in bigger productions. The fearsome twosome of Leporello (Colin Ramsey) and Don Giovanni (Ted Pickell) was continually entertaining in its tensions and shifts, the servant deploring yet admiring and aping his overbearing yet devious boss. The Commendatore Don Pedro, murdered at the outset, comes back toward the end as “the stone guest,” a grimly expressive and efficacious avenging statue, played with an astonishing voice equal to the part by Shelby Condray. Donna Elvira (Sarah Tucker) is a loose cannon, hating and still loving the man who seduced and abandoned her. She obstructs his further attempts at seduction or bamboozling and spurs the other victims to revenge.
The women take the initiative in this drama, appropriate as the choice of a company founded and run by women. Tasha Koontz’s welcome notes stressed the topicality of victimization, but I think female agency is as important here. The collective (ff for fortissima) will show a change of pace in its next production: Sexy Songs, Saturday, June 11 at 5 pm and 8 pm.