Arts & Events

Opera Review: Virago’s “Don Giovanni” at Hillside Club well-sung and charming

By John A. McMullen II
Wednesday March 06, 2013 - 04:46:00 PM
Angela Eden Moser, Anders Froehlich, Elizabeth Baker, Eileen Meredith
Laura Lundy-Paine
Angela Eden Moser, Anders Froehlich, Elizabeth Baker, Eileen Meredith

Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” produced by Virago Theatre Company at the Hillside Club, is a well-sung, charming few hours. 

Directed by international opera star Olivia Stapp, past artistic director of Festival Opera, the emphasis is on the singing rather than the staging.  

As so often happens in Mozart, the commoners have the juiciest parts and Jo Vincent Parks and Elizabeth Baker make the most out of their roles as Leporello, the Don’s servant, and Zerlina, the bride-to-be who Don seduces. 

Basso Parks’ marvelous voice is paired with an easy comic demeanor. He reacts to everything as a natural actor should, his freewheeling ways carry the audience along in his antics, and we sympathize with the burden of his fickle master’s oppression. He even ventured into the orchestra for what seemed like improvisational fiddle-playing that tickled the audience. Mezzo Baker’s sweet looks, devilish charm, and insouciant resilience refuse the victim role that Zerlina often is burdened with, to the betterment of the production. 

Angela Eden Moser sings the role of Donna Anna whose father Il Commendatore (played by Basso William Pickersgill) is slain by Don Giovanni when he tries to intervene in Don’s raping Anna in the opening scene. Eileen Meredith plays Donna Elvira, a noblewomen with whose affections our Don Juan toys. Their soprano voices match the high standards set by Ms. Stapp. Ms. Meredith imparts colors to her arias ranging from tormented to sweet which show her roller-coaster infatuation with Don G.  

Raymond Chavez plays Don Ottavio, Donna Anna’s outraged fiancé bent on revenge; his clarion tenor delightfully rounds out the ensemble. The role of the cuckolded bridegroom Masetto is shared by Jason Sarten and Jordan Eldredge. 

Anders Froelich as Don Giovanni has GQ/movie-star good looks and is thus a natural casting for the role. 

He has the title role in his repertoire from past performances last year with Cinnabar Theatre Company. Trained in dance, Mr. Froelich has the posed and poised comportment of a nobleman. 

His well-toned baritone gets better every time I hear him. In this outing, he is sometimes overshadowed vocally by the rest of the cast, and his portrayal of the title role is that of a handsome man who never really had to work to get a woman. We see little trace of what compels him to his serial seductions, or what--besides his daunting good looks and noble position--induce the ladies to part with their virtue so readily. 

Music Director Jonathan Khuner leads the singers and the “Shameless Passion Orchestra”* to a superior accompaniment--under the baton of Michael Moran for the performance I attended. The orchestra is positioned on the floor in front of the stage, which was of momentary concern that the singers would be acoustically overshadowed, but after the first ten minutes the cast’s powerful voices projected sufficiently to allay all fears. Maestro Khuner’s subtitles provided smiles with his modern, dead-pan translations. (*Virago Theatre Company’s motto is “a shameless passion for theatre.”) 

On the final performance Saturday, March 9, there is a Closing Night Wine & Cheese Soiree with the cast, hosted by Blacksmith Cellars at the Hillside Club. 

The Hillside Club at 2286 Cedar in Berkeley was a Maybeck creation restored by his brother-in-law John White after it burned in 1923, and if you’ve never been, it’s worth the very reasonable ticket price to hear an opera there (when you visit, be sure and view the incredible hearth on house right). 



INFO: 510-865-6237