The audience for Santa Fe Opera’s production of arrives to find the back of the stage opened to a scene so lovely that even the liveried servants are assembled to gaze at the sun setting over the western landscape. It is apt for the magnificent of Wolfgang Amadè Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte, since its Spanish location might not look so very different from our own.
This production is not about realistic settings. The principal stage object rises from below decks during the overture: a gigantic human skull taking form out of an inchoate mass. Probably it signifies mortality. All the action in Riccardo Hernandez’s set revolves around or on this sculpture. The ever-present hulk calls to mind perhaps a sphinx, perhaps a chess-piece. Director Ron Daniels keeps the characterizations precise and simple, and the cast, dressed in luxuriant late-Renaissance costumes by Emily Rebholz, responds with performances that are dramatically credible.
Daniel Okulitch is a splendid Don Giovanni, handsome of visage and voice, at once cocky and suave, seductive and dangerous. He is allotted only two arias; both were memorable here. “Deh vieni,” with its adorable mandolin obbligato, became a highlight of the evening as Okulitch caressed its phrases with