Simanaitis Says

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WHAT WITH the past two days here at SimanaitisSays devoted to Mob Talk, it’s logical to follow up with a review of Pacific Opera Project’s Don Giovanni.

Logical? Yes, because POP chose to set Mozart’s opera buffa about the lascivious Don Giovanni amidst 1950s’ gangster types. In this context, swords are replaced by roscoes, il Commendatore is the chief of police, whose daughter Donna Anna is a doomed alcoholic in love with Don Ottavio, who sports a shoulder-holstered gat. And Don Giovanni is, indeed, the don.

I feel right at home with this. In my high school, a lot of the guys were named Don and the girls, Donna.

To get in the mood, check out Giovanni’s henchman Leporello (baritone E. Scott Levin) in an entertaining YouTube video describing the special parking organized for opera attendees. This particular POP production took place at The Vortex, a downtown Los Angeles location differing from the company’s usual Highland Park Ebell Club venue.

Outside Don Giovanni’s digs with the principals. From left to right, il Commendatore (Andrew Potter), Masetto (Luvi Avendano), Leporello (E. Scott Levin), Don Giovanni (Adrian Rosas), his latest attempted conquest Zerlina (Tiffany Ho), jilted lover Donna Elvira (Daria Somers), Don Ottavio (Robert Norman), and Donna Anna (Saira Frank).

Josh Shaw, POP’s artistic director and co-founder, designed the multi-level set to function as the exterior of Giovanni’s villa as well as its interior. A straightforward swap of several brick panels for those of wallpaper brought this off adroitly.

Inside, the dissolute don is about to get what he deserves.

Donna Elvira, at the left in the scene above, is one of Giovanni’s 1003 conquests in the original opera’s España; in POP’s gangsterland. Daria Somers was particularly adept at portraying Elvira’s plight: She knows Giovanni is a real louse. But, alas, she’s still attracted to him.

There’s plenty of action amid well sung arias, duets, and ensemble pieces. POP’s 20-piece orchestra, conducted by Ryan Murray, performed admirably off to stage left. During the Overture, a scene-setting video by Hojoon Kim was shown above the orchestra. Later, Don Giovanni showered the musicians with a cash bribe to accompany him in serenading Donna Anna’s maid. The opera was sung in Italian, with director Shaw composing mob-talk translations for the supertitles.

The Commendatore’s statue accepts Giovanni’s dinner invitation.

In appropriately Godfather fashion, the Commendatore’s statue makes Giovanni an offer he cannot refuse. The POP production concludes with Giovanni’s hellish end.

In traditional productions, this is followed by the remaining principals singing an ensemble piece, each giving a mealy-mouthed appeal to Mozart-era censors: Donna Ellvira says she’s entering a convent; Leporello plans to find a better master; etc.

POP censors? “Fuhgeddaboudit!” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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