When you invite a ghost to dinner, you’d better know your record with women is clean. Washington National Opera’s production of Don Giovanni, set in a marbled corporate lobby haunted by specters of women, underlines the ways this opera has always been way ahead of its time.

Ryan McKinny (Don Giovanni) © Scott Suchman
Ryan McKinny (Don Giovanni)
© Scott Suchman

Timely is an understatement: this production, directed by E. Loren Meeker with set designed by Erhard Rom, appeared days after Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of crimes not dissimilar from Don Giovanni, and although no ghost has yet to swallow him up, when has an opera that premiered in 1788 ever felt as prescient? This production takes full advantage of this, lining up voiceless women in white along stark office walls, staircases, and balconies, unafraid to shy away from some of the beloved arias, such as Leporello’s Catalogue aria, which rang with a darker overtone. It doesn't hammer in the point, but it doesn't have to. 

As Donna Anna, Vanessa Vasquez took some time to warm up on the stage in voice and performance; perhaps consequences of first night adjustments on her debut with WNO, but even so, not presenting quite as fierce a Donna Anna as the role demands. Ryan McKinny, alternatively, delivered a performance that spoke of lots of experience in the role, as recently as last spring with Houston Grand Opera. His tone was robust, his technique confident, his command of the stage appropriately rogue-ish. 

Ryan McKinny (Don Giovanni) and Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello) © Scott Suchman
Ryan McKinny (Don Giovanni) and Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello)
© Scott Suchman

Perhaps the strongest singers of the evening were those whose characters I’ve always felt the most sympathy for. Leporello, always just trying to serve his master well, was a gem to behold in the hands of Kyle Ketelsen – with a rich timbre and well-timed swagger. As the woman who loves Don Giovanni so purely, seeing him for what he is but desperately wanting to believe otherwise, Donna Elvira is maybe the most complex character this opera unfurls. Keri Alkema, masterful vocal artist, exposed her character’s tragic depths with heart and authority. 

Norman Garrett (Masetto) and Vanessa Becerra (Zerlina) © Scott Suchman
Norman Garrett (Masetto) and Vanessa Becerra (Zerlina)
© Scott Suchman

Animated and enthusiastic, conductor Evan Rogister pulled beautiful tone from the orchestra but let the tempos lag. Many times singers were just a hair of a beat ahead of the orchestra, and while everyone managed to readjust and hold it together, often arias just needed to move a little faster to maintain energy. Vanessa Becerra played the role of the innocent, pretty Zerlina persuasively with crystalline timbre, but she struggled with pitch in the beginning and was victim to this tempo misalignment toward the close, alongside the rest of the cast. True to their characters, only Norman Garrett (as steadfast Masetto) and Peter Volpe (as The Commendatore) were immune.

Lots of people talk about keeping opera relevant. When Leporello tells Elvira: “Calm down! You are not the first, nor will you be the last” (“Eh! Consolatevi! non siete voi, non foste, e non sarete né la prima, nè l’ultima.”), the words cut deep: There’s a sharp edge to the fact that stories of male privilege and abuse have stood the test of time. 

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