Don Giovanni (Mark Walters) carousing with an unnamed lady-friend (Rosetta Greek).
  • Elise Bakketun
  • Don Giovanni (Mark Walters) carousing with an unnamed lady (Rosetta Greek).

Mozart’s Don Giovanni tells the story of a charming, attractive, and seductive serial rapist. He is a heartless womanizer whose conquests both he and his servant Leporello (the lively and resonant Erik Anstine, a former Seattle Opera Young Artist) gloat about. As Leporello brags to Doña Elvira (Elizabeth Caballero) about the Don, his list of “peasant girls, city girls, blondes, brunettes, fat girls, skinny girls, tall girls,” etc. is a melodic if nauseating precursor to Mick Jagger’s list in “Some Girls.”

The “girls” in the opera are either affection-starved and eager for the hero’s sexy charm or victims of assault by a stalker and sociopath. When it premiered in the late 18th century, the Don was read as the seductive charmer whose, uh, sexual healing of females represented a kind of liberation from the stifling roles imposed on people by gender, marital status, and class. But nowadays you can hardly hear Zerlina’s come-back-to-me aria, “Bati! Bati!” (“Hit me! Hit me!”) as anything other than the desperation of a victim of abuse.

But this production tries. The verve with which Cecelia Hall sings this Zerlina suggests the possibility that the ingenue is being ironic, playing with what she thinks the swaggering Don (Nicolas Cavallier; great voice, stiff swagger) would like to hear. Maybe Mozart’s Don is just an 18th-century Blockhead (à la Ian Drury and the Blockheads, whose one late-'70s hit was “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick,” the chorus of which went “Hit Me! Hit me!”). Maybe the opera is also about what happens when the sexual lines between pleasure and pain, consent and role-play, get blurry.

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It’s also discomforting when Donna Anna (Erin Wall) recounts how the Don raped her and then killed her Commendatore father (Jordan Bisch). Prior to her recounting, we’ve seen Donna Anna and the Don and their exchange appeared consensual. Maybe there wasn’t a rape, but a female lie? Unfortunately, that excuse/accusation is still too often trotted out (see Cee Lo Green, etc.). There’s no way around the creepiness. There’s also no way around the fact that the music of Don Gionvanni is masterful—there are so many great melodies you recognize and powerful choruses and that one great voice of judgement from beyond, when the dead Commendatore comes back to accuse the Don and send him down to suffer and die in flames. The rape of a woman, the woman as victim, and the woman as property are staples of opera and records of a culture that too often has regarded the female as other, as less than, as expendable, or as an object upon which the struggles of the heroic or anti-heroic male are enacted. Beneath the soaring music of Don Giovanni is an illustration of the historic and current battle between the sexes.

Lawrence Brownlee, also a former Seattle Opera Young Artist, gives another standout performance as Don Ottavio and the spare black Louise Nevelson-esque set is a perfect backdrop for the darkness beneath this complex and magnificent tale of troubled lust.

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