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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Opera review: Cinnabar Theatre’s “Don Giovanni,” a new production that is sure to ignite your passions, through April 15, 2012

Baritone Anders Froehlich is the captivating Don Giovanni in Mozart’s enduring classic of the same name which opened at Cinnabar Theatre on March 23, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

When Cinnabar Theatre cast baritone Anders Froehlich for the title role in their new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the classic retelling of the Don Juan legend, they were half way home.  Not only can Froelich sing, but he has the physique of a lean and muscled Romeo.  And, he so convincingly plays the part of Mozart’s suave, seductive, and morally reprehensible aristocrat, that it’s pure pleasure to sit back and experience being seduced by him.  Add to that baritone Eugene Walden’s remarkable performance as Leporello, Giovanni’s faithful but grumbling sidekick, and this production soars.  Truth be told, the entire cast is superb, the music is glorious and the production is so creative that it represents the opera’s tremendous dramatic possibilities as well a small theatre company at it best.

Soprano Kelly Britt, a 2011 graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, makes her Cinnabar Theatre debut as Donna Anna in Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni,” which runs through April 15, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

One of the most amazing aspects of this 225 year-old opera is that it is so filled with fabulous ambiguities, that almost every production emphasizes something different.  Cinnabar’s production, staged by Elly Lichtenstein, gives us a Don Giovanni whose beguiling and complex personality is matched by the equally complex women he encounters.  After the opening night performance, I found myself ruminating on these women—what they represented in their time and what they bring to the table in the here and now.  There’s the unhinged young Donna Anna (soprano Kelly Britt), who has, in the very least, been ravished by Don Giovanni and is mourning the death of her father, who was murdered trying to defend her honor.  Normally, she’s depicted as icy cold and hell-bent on retaliation. Here, we also see her warmth and humanity.  There’s matronly Donna Elvira (mezzo soprano Eileen Morris) who has been jilted by Giovanni and she too seeks revenge and but, beneath the hurt, she still loves him and can’t free herself of her co-dependent obsession.  When she tries to protect young Zerlina from Giovanni’s reckless ways, we see a preservation instinct that we wish she’d exercise on herself.  There’s the young peasant girl Zerlina (soprano Emma McNairy), who loves Masetto but is also taken in by the suave Giovanni’s proclamations and the high life he represents.  She wants both men and, for a moment, deludes herself into thinking that this can work.  And then there is the chorus of women, voluptuous nymphs in all shapes and sizes, writhing in full sensual abandon with each other and with Don Giovanni.  The opera’s rich comic and tragic elements are driven by all these interactions and Lichtenstein has really made Giovanni’s journey—to eternal damnation—one riveting ride.

Don Giovanni (baritone Anders Froehlich, right) attempts to seduce the young peasant girl Zerlina (Soprano Emma McNairy, left) at her own wedding party. Photo: Eric Chazankin

23 year-old soprano Emma McNairy was delightful as Zerlina.   Winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s 2011 Voice Concerto Competition, McNairy’s expressive voice shows incredible range and she has a commanding stage presence. And did she snap into character!  She played Zerlina as sweet and crafty, bringing a refreshing and realistic complexity to the role.  Her pairing with William O’Neill as Masetto, her hunky intended, produced some of the opera’s most fiery moments, another example of the sizzling chemistry that makes this production pop.

Soprano Kelly Britt as Donna Anna was striking—her distinctive voice was smooth, powerful, and evocative.  From the moment she appeared, she displayed a whirlwind of emotional extremes that made the impact of Donna Anna’s rape, or ravishing, by Don Giovanni and the sudden death of her father seem very real.   The twenty-three year-old has that extra something coursing through her that produces a riveting sound, not yet honed to perfection but on its way, and that’s very exciting to experience.

First to appear and last to utter a solo, baritone Eugene Walden was a thoroughly engaging Leporello.   One of the opera’s most humorous moments occurred during his lighthearted “Catalog Aria,” (Madamina, il catalogo è questo) (Act I, Scene v).  As the beleaguered Leporello sings the amazing tally of his boss’s conquests to Donna Elvira, he pulls out a seemingly endless accordion book, chock full of women’s faces and descriptive notes, and flings it towards Donna Elvira.  This gesture so captivates and infuriates her that she engages in a tug of war with him over the book.  This is just one of Elly Lichtenstein’s clever and amusing touches whose effect is priceless.  Another of these magical moments occurs with the famous balcony serenade at the beginning of Act II.  Just behind the singer and through a widow, we see a very seductive striptease occurring between two voluptuous women in silhouette—the scene is gorgeously back lit and has all the resonant flair of a fan dance.  As the women almost get it on, you can feel the heat rising in the audience.  The sensuality is carried through to the famous banquet scene, done wine country style, with Giovanni dining on plump grapes and scantily-clad women.  In the opera’s final chilling scene, the powerfully built John Minágro, who makes a very commanding Commendatore, now turned singing statue, comes to swoop Don Giovanni to his just desserts—hell.  Froelich’s Don Giovanni’s is so intoxicating that, even on his way to hell, he still gets to us.

Cinnabar Theatre’s “Don Giovanni,” has inventive props. Here baritone Eugene Walden, Leporello, sings his famous “catalog aria” to Eileen Morris, Donna Elvira, and flings a seemingly endless accordion-style book that documents his boss’s many romantic conquests. Photo: Eric Chazankin

One of the pleasures of the hearing Mozart’s dramatic music played in the intimate 99 seat setting that Cinnabar offers is that every musician stands out.   Conductor Mary Chun and the orchestra of 10 did a valiant job, offering an elegant and cohesive blending with the voices on stages, but at times the sound seemed understated.  I had never heard the opera sung in English before, which is the only opera experience that Cinnabar Theatre provides, keeping with founder Martin Klebe’s wish to make opera accessible to all audiences.  The main advantage is an immediate understanding of the story, which means it’s very easy to take it all in and you’re not scrambling with translation.  If you know the opera in Italian, its beloved arias such as There, we will entwine  our hands (Là ci darem la mano), (Act I, between Zerlina and Giovanni) are made all the more enjoyable by singing them in Italian in your mind and checking your Italian against the English as you go.

Music by W.A. Mozart, Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, Sung in English (da Ponte’s full translation/libretto translation of Don Giovanni is available free online here.)

Mary Chun artistic director/conductor; Elly Lichtenstein, Stage Director

 

The Cast, in order of appearance: 

Leporello— servant to Don Giovanni, Eugene Walden

Don Giovanni—Anders Froehlich

Donna Anna—Kelly Britt

The Commendatore, Anna’s father—John Minágro

Don Ottavio, Anna’s fiancé—Mark Kratz

Cinnabar Theatre’s production of “Don Giovanni,” is staged and lit ingeniously. Here baritone Anders Froehlich, as Don Giovanni, sings against a dramatically back-lit window where silhouettes of sensuous delights unfold before the audience. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Donna Elvira—Eileen Morris

Zerlina— Emma McNairy

Masetto, Zerlina’s fiancé— William O’Neill

Sandrina, Leporello’s love—Arden Kwan

Paul Gilger, set design; Wayne Hovey lighting design, Tracy Hinman Sigrist, costume design, Barton Smith, choreography

 

Underwritten by Frank and Mary Lou Schomer and The A to Z Concert series.

Details:  Cinnabar Theatre is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952.  Tickets online: $35 General, $32 Seniors 65 & Over, $25 Age 22 & Under.  Tickets also be purchased before the performance but pre-purchase of tickets is  highly recommended as the theatre is small.  Early arrival is also recommended as there is no assigned seating.   For more information, call 707-763-8920 or visit http://www.cinnabartheater.org

Run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.

There are 5 remaining performances:  Wednesday April 4, 2012, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 7, 2012, at 8 p.m. Friday, April 13, 2012, at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14, 2012, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 15, 2012, at 2 p.m.

April 3, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: “Proof,” David Auburn’s play about math and insanity,” adds up to great entertainment, at 6th Street Playhouse through Sunday, February 26, 2012

In David Auburn’s “Proof,” at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa through February 26, 2012, Alan Kaplan is Robert, a legendary mathematician who lost his mind late in his career and Dana Scott is his brooding mathematically brilliant daughter, Catherine, who cared for him and asserts that she has authored a proof that is about to be posthumously attributed to her father. Photo: Eric Chazankin, courtesy 6th Street Playhouse

What constitutes proof?   In geometry, it’s a sequence of justified conclusions used to prove the validity of an if-then statement.  In a more general sense, it’s evidence or an argument that compels the mind to accept something as true.  In playwright David Auburn’s play “Proof,” which won a Pulitzer in 2001, proving the authorship and validity of a mathematical proof enmesh a devoted daughter, her unstable father—both mathematical geniuses─with her father’s well-meaning student and a visiting sister in a poignant drama about genius, madness and inheritance.   This is a riveting production whose elements─concept, casting, staging─all cohere beautifully at Santa Rosa 6th Street Playhouse’s intimate Studio Theatre.  

Catherine (Dana Scott) functions best in the world of mathematical probability and equations but she dropped out of the University of Chicago’s math program to care for her father, Robert (Alan Kaplan), a brilliant Univeristy of Chicago mathematician who lost his mind late in his career and has spent the last several years filling stacks of notebooks with obsessive notes about observations in his daily life. The play opens on the porch of Robert’s rustic house on the South side of Chicago and an exhausted and depressed Catherine, played convincingly by Healdsburg actress Dana Scott, is mourning his death.  She cared for him through his breakdown, what looked like a promising remission, and then through his final breakdown.  In a series of flashbacks, the audience sees Catherine and her dad conversing and, at times, pouring over proofs.  They shared a very deep and special connection through their mutual love of and talent for mathematics.  The audience slowly discovers that Catherine is troubled herself and mistrusting.  She prefers to keep her talent under tight wraps and feigns ambivalence about her interest in pursuing her math education when she’s confronted but, secretly, she has made plans to pursue her studies at another prestigious Illinois University, Northwestern, which is in the city of Evanston just north of the Chicago city line, where she will not just be “his daughter.”

Mark Bradbury (right) is Hal, a PhD mathematician who is pouring over his mentor, Robert’s notebooks to find an important mathematical proof while sleeping with Catherine (Dana Scott), Robert’s daughter, who claims that she has authored the proof. Photo: Eric Chazankin, courtesy 6th Street Playhouse

Hal (Mark Bradbury), a socially awkward and well-meaning PhD mathematician who was once Robert’s protégée, is also at the cabin, reviewing Robert’s 100 handwritten notebooks for important mathematical discoveries.  Older sister Claire (Jill Zimmerman), a foreign currency analyst, who has flown in from New York for the funeral also arrives at the cabin.  Hal develops a crush on Catherine and, as she warms to him, she gives him a key to a drawer upstairs in the room where Hal has been reviewing her father’s notebooks.  When a promising set of equations is uncovered in a notebook that was in that drawer, Hal attempts to determine the true author, Catherine or her father.  Hal’s attempts to validate the proof are fraught with risks.  He’s sleeping with Catherine and also senses her fragility.  If he proves that the work is her father’s, it could destabilize her and ruin their relationship. If he proves the work is hers, then her father’s legacy will rest on work he accomplished in his early 20’s and his later years will be remembered as those spent in madness and obscurity.  We’re never sure until the end whether Robert had succeeded or whether he was deluded by his illness.  There are other proofs explored as well.  Is Catherine’s depression sufficient evidence to constitute proof that she has inherited their father’s disorder? 

It’s hard to imagine anyone more convincing than Dana Scott in the role of Catherine─brooding, moping, ambivalent, assertive, and insecure─a study in contrasts.  Most actresses, who have tackled this role, can nail the depressed aspect of Catherine’s character but Scott makes us feel that it’s entirely possible that Catherine is flirting with insanity.  Alan Kaplan delivers Robert as a kind-hearted and distracted mathematics genius who’s uncontrollably unsteady.  One moment he’s spouting wisdom and the next he seems confused.  The play’s high points all involve one-on-one scenes between Kaplan and Scott who have spent endless hours formulating theorems in a kind of connect-the dots logic to find a proof.   One of the most poignant and devastating moments comes as a flashback─Catherine comes home to find her father confidant that he has come up with the proof.  She is excited but when she starts to read from his notebook, she realizes it is filled with a logical but ridiculous rambling about the seasons and the change of weather and her hopes on many levels are dashed.   Jill Zimmerman plays the super-efficient older sister Claire as someone who means well but comes on like a freight truck, no matter what she’s talking about.  Mark Bradbury’s Hal is genuine─a sweet trustworthy nerd who carries a backpack crammed with his clothes and drumsticks and who wears his heart on his sleeve.  Paul Gilger’s charming set design─a rustic country cabin porch with maple rocking chairs, newspapers piled high, and plenty of leaves─evokes the simplicity and solitude of the daily life that Catherine and her father led while she cared for him.

In David Auburn’s “Proof,” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse, Dana Scott is Catherine, a brilliant young mathematician suffering from depression who has put her life on hold to care for her aging father, Robert, played by Robert Kaplan. Photo: Eric Chazankin, courtesy 6th Street Playhouse

  

Click inside box to enlarge text.

 

Details: 6th Street Playhouse is located at 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.  Proof  has four remaining performances:  Friday, February 24, 2012 at 8 PM; Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 2 PM and 8 PM; and Sunday February 26, 2012 at 2 PM.  Tickets are $10 to $25.  Phone: (707) 523-4`85 or purchase online: http://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com/box-office/buy-tickets/ or in person.

February 24, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment