Why has generation after generation found the character of Don Giovanni (or Don Juan) fascinating? Because he is a rich member of the noblity, he can do exactly as he pleases with no thought to the effect his deeds have on others. Wouldn’t we all like to do that if there were no consequences? In Ron Daniels' production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Santa Fe Opera, the specter of death and the possibility of judgment is always center stage.

During the overture, a huge mass arose upstage and turned into a golden skull as it slid into place. Other than black marble walls and various lighting arrangements within the skull and its surrounding area, there was not much else to Riccardo Hernandez’s scenery, but that was enough to set the stage for a fine performance. Within the skull there were snatches of gardens and lyrical scenes as well as reminders of what the skull represented, as it silently watched everyone. 

Emily Rebholz’s costumes were colorful for the most part, with leather for the Don and Leporello and long, silk, full-skirted dresses for Donna Elvira and Donna Anna. Masetto and Zerlina wore peasant finery, and Don Ottavio looked dashing in black and white. Daniels helped each of the soloists to create characters and even the mourning Donna Anna had more personality than usual. At first she seemed to flirt with the Don. Had he been welcome in her bedroom? Her father considered the Don a home invader, however, and that changed the lives of both father and daughter. Don Ottavio was an attentive beau, but his love for Anna would remain unrequited. Daniels brought the foibles of each character to the forefront.

Daniel Okulitch was a memorable Don Giovanni who sang his Champagne Aria in a downstage bathtub. swathed in towels. He sang it fast with elegant sonorities reminiscent of old time singers like Cesare Siepi. His intonation was precise and his articulation distinct. Although Okulitch sang the serenade “Deh vieni alla finestra” softly, he phrased with the utmost good taste and his sound was entrancing.

Kyle Ketelsen’s Leporello was a believable, but unhappy, employee. He was a complaining servant whose personality would deny him a really good job. Although it did not please Donna Elvira, his Catalogue Aria was one of the highlights of the evening. Later, he was hysterically funny in his vain attempt to steal a bit of meat from the Don’s meal. 

Donna Elvira wanted revenge but would never get it. Keri Alkema, who sang the part, had an excess of vibrato in the first act but sang well after that. Her “Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata” told her sad story well. Leah Crocetto was an excellent Donna Anna whose huge voice offered richly colored tones. She decorated both her arias tastefully and they swirled out over the audience in waves of vocal beauty.

One does not always get to hear both of Don Ottavio’s arias in the same performance because each was written for a different tenor in a different performance. Mozart wrote “Il mio tesoro,” for Prague and “Dalla sua pace” for Vienna. Since Santa Fe Opera’s score was a combination of the two versions, its lucky audience got to hear Edgaras Montvidas sing both of them in delightfully graceful Mozartian style.

The peasant couple looked as though they might have a chance at life together, but only if she stopped flirting. Vocally, they were a bit uneven. One of the more pleasant surprises of the evening was the Masetto of Apprentice Jarett Ott. He was a charmingly countrified bumpkin who sang with robust resonance. The Zerlina was Rhian Lois, a soprano who did not have much lyrical tone. She looked the part, however, and created a credible character. Maybe we have become too used to lyric mezzo-sopranos with juicy middle registers singing the sassy peasant girl.

Young bass, Soloman Howard, has a strong, virile voice and he sang the Commendatore with a stentorian sound. Susanne Sheston’s chorus sang this opera’s glorious music in perfect harmony. Conductor John Nelson gave his audience a taste of what the score may have sounded like in Mozart’s time by having his soloists embellish their arias within tasteful limits. The orchetsra responded to his urging with consistent virtuosity. Santa Fe has always been a fine place for Mozart and this was one of its better performances.