Few composers survive varied interpretations and levels of performance quality as well as Mozart; the music almost always wins over circumstances. That was the case on opening night of San Francisco Opera’s new production of “Don Giovanni.”
When Nicola Luisotti began to conduct the overture on Saturday, the sound from the orchestra was unusually restrained, and the performance continued in the same vein for almost three hours, until the finale caught fire. It was Mozart with a light touch -- measured, precise and somewhat bland.
Neither elegance nor passion were in the fore, and they certainly didn’t play against each other as they did in San Francisco Opera’s last “Don Giovanni” four years ago.
Conducting and playing the fortepiano recitative accompaniment (with Bryndon Hassman, harpsichord, and Thalia Moore, cello), Luisotti maintained an admirable consistency of tempo and balance, but at times the music came close to being flat.
U.S. debuts of director Gabriele Lavia, set designer Alessandro Camera, and costume designer Andrea Viotti were mixed affairs.
At times, Lavia went for commedia dell’arte high jinks; more often, he had the singers stand stock still, arranged in tableaux. Viotti’s hero wore a long leather coat and sunglasses, even at night in 17th-century Seville.
At first, Camera’s two dozen large mirrors and an equal number of Louis XIV-like chairs made a strong impression against the otherwise empty stage. Yet when the huge (16- by 6-feet, weighing 300 pounds each) suspended gilded mirrors began to come and go, in busy and virtually constant choreography, the distraction could not be justified or explained away by psychology.
Two exceptions to the empty stage were tombstones in the cemetery scene and a lavish plush-draped dinner finale for Don’s departure into hell. (There was no epilogue in the Luisotti-selected mix of Vienna and Prague versions of the opera.)
In the title role, Merola/Adler veteran Lucas Meachem presented a self-confident anti-hero, both smooth in seduction and rough in action. He sang well, especially in soft passages that featured his voice’s lyrical beauty, but when the score required a more powerful presence, it wasn’t always there.
Among the unusually large number of debuts, the standout was in the smallest role, the Commendatore, sang with restrained but resounding power by Morris Robinson. The audience clearly wanted the newcomer to the War Memorial Opera House to return soon.
Marco Vinco as Leporello was vocally, dramatically and comically outstanding. Kate Lindsey, a singing actor if there ever was one, ate up the role of Zerlina, using every part of her body in addition to her impressive vocal cords.
Serena Farnocchia as Donna Elvira and Shawn Mathey as Don Ottavio made good, if not vivid impressions. Returning artists included Ellie Dehn as a fair Donna Anna and Ryan Kuster as Masetto.
Don Giovanni (presented by San Francisco Opera)
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 18, Oct 21 and Oct. 29; 2 p.m. Oct. 23 and Nov. 5; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26, Nov. 2 and Nov. 10
Tickets: $29 to $330
Contact: (415) 864-3330; www.sfopera.com