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Atlanta Opera will close season with “Don Giovanni,” Mozart’s classic take on lust

The last time Atlanta Opera staged "Don Giovanni" was 2004. (Photo by J.D. Scott)
The last time the Atlanta Opera staged "Don Giovanni" was 2004. (Photo by J.D. Scott)

The Atlanta Opera will bring its 2011-12 season to a close with four performances of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” one of the most popular operas ever written. The performances, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, will take place April 28 and May 1, 4 and 6.

The opera is based on the oft-told tale of Don Juan, a fictional Spanish libertine who went around seducing women. In this version, with a libretto by Mozart’s greatest collaborator, Lorenzo Da Ponte, the story becomes a black comedy. It can be a tricky work, not only because of the musical challenges (each role is demanding), but because its comic opportunities mustn’t be allowed to overwhelm the darkness underlying it all. And this is complicated because modern Western culture doesn’t share the 18th-century European aristocracy’s obsessions with sexual innocence, the frailty of women and lost honor.

And yet, with the right ensemble, good conducting and a sensitive stage director, “Don Giovanni” succeeds like few operas before or since. It’s great theater, and the score is one of Mozart’s finest, which is saying a lot.

The Atlanta Opera will use sets designed by R. Keith Brumley for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and the stage director will be Richard Kagey, who directed Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten” here in 2008 and who returned last season to design “Porgy and Bess.” The company’s resident conductor, Arthur Fagen, will conduct.

The title role will go to Italian baritone Andrea Concetti, making his debut with the company. Few in America have heard him, as almost his entire career has taken place in Europe. Reviews of his performances describe a ringing voice and a commanding stage presence. Like Samuel Ramey, one of the great Don Giovannis of all time, Concetti seems to have a knack for performing without a shirt. His servant, Leporello, will be portrayed by Argentine bass-baritone Eduardo Chama, also making his Atlanta debut. His voice is described as fine-grained and quite beautiful.

Soprano Pamela Armstrong will sing the role of Dona Anna. Her voice is described as rich and powerful. Melody Moore, who recently starred in the New York City Opera premiere of “Prima Donna,” Rufus Wainwright’s opera, will be Atlanta’s Dona Elvira. “Prima Donna” was a mixed bag for critics, but Moore got great reviews for her performance. Tenor Nicholas Phan will sing Don Ottavio, soprano Angela Kloc will portray Zerlina, and Atlanta baritone Brent Davis will sing Masetto.

Ticket prices for “Don Giovanni” begin at $25. As always, there are many opportunities for ancillary activities, including free talks before each performance, social events, backstage tours and an opening-night party with the cast. For further information, see www.atlantaopera.org.

Whenever I can, I like to prepare for an opera performance by listening to a great recording. For “Don Giovanni,” my recommendation would be the fabled 1959 Angel recording under the baton of Carlo Maria Giulini, with an amazing Golden Age cast including Elizabeth Schwartzkopf and a young Joan Sutherland. The CD is currently out of print (though easily found), but an mp3 download of the entire opera is available through Amazon.com.

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