For the Love of Opera: Don Giovanni

Russell Braun as Don Giovanni in the Canadian Opera Company production of Don Giovanni, 2015. Photo: Michael Cooper

Russell Braun as an aging Don Giovanni in the Canadian Opera Company production of Don Giovanni, 2015.

Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov brings his unique vision of Mozart’s indelible tragicomedy, Don Giovanni to the Canadian Opera Stage.

Saturday night’s opening performance of Don Giovanni was met with mixed emotions and differing opinions by the crowd and critics alike. Tcherniakov, known for his nonconventional interpretations, here chooses a modern setting, has the events take place over a period of months and sets his Casanova as an aging, unattractive libertine, who falls into his own Hell long before the final scene.

Tcherniakov also imagines the characters as part of the same extended family, but their connections are far from being sharply drawn for the audience and perhaps even for the players on stage. Take for instance Zerlina as Donna Anna’s adult daughter, one would never guess the relation between them through their interactions together. In fact, Donna Elvira (here Giovanni’s wife), exhibits far more familial affection toward the young fiancée.

In this Don Giovanni, the director opened up the temporal structure, in part to demonstrate the “possibility of much greater personal change in the characters.” But again, there was no stark evidence by the end of the work to convince audience goers that the characters underwent any significant changes.

It’s also hard to get behind Russell Braun as an irresistible Casanova with a catalogue of sexual conquests. He lacks any of the outward traits of the typical carefree playboy, is neither sexy nor does he exude any sexual charisma, making it hard to understand why the women in his life show him such unbridled passion and willingness to throw away their lives for.

Although Braun isn’t the young, dashing man one typically sees in this role, his performance as an aging rake was sheer brilliance. He comes completely undone in Act II—a man who refuses to give up or repent of his lust for ever increasing conquests. Watching him on stage, blustering around in filthy clothes and sloshing alcohol everywhere was to witness a thing of magic.

(l-r) Jennifer Holloway as Donna Elvira (in background), exudes the pain she feels while Sasha Djihanian as Zerlina adds whimsy to the role and Russell Braun as Don Giovanni gives a superb performance.

(l-r) Jennifer Holloway as Donna Elvira (in background), exudes the pain she feels, while Sasha Djihanian as Zerlina adds whimsy to the role and Russell Braun as Don Giovanni provides a superb performance.

The other players on stage, didn’t miss a beat musically. Jane Archibald as Donna Anna was thoroughly convincing in tone and performance. Sasha Djihanian as a whimsical Zerlina was a joy to behold and brought a refreshing spin to the character. Jennifer Holloway as the spurned wife Elvira, sang with undeniable fragility and emotion throughout. The aloof manservant of Giovanni, Leperello, was played by Kyle Ketelsen and he was enjoyable in each of his scenes.  The young bass-baritone brought a lightness to the stage that was needed to break up some of the harsher aspects of the opera. No stranger to the role of the Commendatore, Italian bass singer Andrea Silvestrelli’s performance was thoroughly commanding and each time he sang his voice filled the opera house.

Mozart’s score for Don Giovanni is timeless, and guest conductor Michael Hofstetter’s flawless execution brought out the colours of the orchestra and the drama that is implicit in this opera.

There are several reasons why the timing of this Don Giovanni on stage will have stirred such emotions in people. The story of an influential man taking advantage of women is one we have been exposed to at an alarming rate in the past several months. At the end of Act I, when young Zerlina screams after being dragged into a side room, one could almost feel the tension in the crowd. Giovanni remains defiant and unapologetic up to his last breath, and that too, is all too familiar. The difference here, is that by the end of the opera, the question of accountability isn’t questioned, he is punished for his crimes.

Don Giovanni is on stage at the Four Seasons for the Performing Arts until February 21, 2015. For tickets visit:

About The Author

Editorial Director

Janelle Watkins is a citizen of the world who has lived both a charmed and stormy life. She has worked as a personal shopper, journalist, has done extensive work in marketing communications, and public relations. These experiences have seen her working alongside prominent leaders from the fashion, culinary, art and media worlds. This bon vivant would like to add some flair to her readers’ lives and loves to get their feedback. On everyday life she sums up, “Live life in your own style, be true to yourself – be distinct.” Favourite place in Toronto: Strolling around the Yonge/Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant Village neighbourhoods with a David’s Tea and two special little someones.

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