On Wednesday night the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts was more crowded than a shopping mall during the holiday season. Apparently, nothing could keep DC opera lovers from getting to the Washington National Opera - not even the notorious peak hour traffic.

Ildar Abdrazakov and Soloman Howard, © Scott Suchman
Ildar Abdrazakov and Soloman Howard,
© Scott Suchman

It comes as no surprise that Mozart’s Don Giovanni, known to some as "the greatest opera ever written" is on most opera fans’ must-see lists. It certainly came as no surprise for anyone present in the audience last night that the renewal of John Pascoe’s 2007 production was in high demand. Set in Fascist and Royalist Spain, Pascoe’s version of the epic tale of the most well-known womanizer emphasized the ever-modern context of Mozart’s opera. True, over the centuries fashions have changed: dresses got shorter and masks were replaced by sunglasses. Yet, no political regime has ever been strong enough to stop abandoned women from chasing their offenders, slighted lovers from plotting revenges, and playboys from starting new love affairs.

Even though I wished that Pascoe’s costumes were in better agreement with the period fashions, and that more scenes had brighter lighting, overall, the production was visually pleasing and boasted some very memorable moments. The compelling traditional sets intensified the opera’s romantic/dramatic feel, and flamenco dancers added authentic flair to the excitement of the ball scene. Yet, it was thanks to the dynamic team of well-matched artists that the production became a real hit.

British baritone Andrew Foster-Williams came across as a charming Leporello. Without overacting, he offered some hilarious action in addition to his secure delivery of the famous "Madamina". Bringing her musicality and noble air to the stage in her WNO debut, soprano Megan Miller was convincing as Donna Anna, serving soaring high notes in spite of her throat infection. Juan Francisco Gatell, who portrayed her noble fiancé Don Ottavio, produced particularly lustrous singing in his first showcase aria "Dalla sua pace".

Yet, the biggest triumph of the evening belonged to Grammy award winning bass, Ildar Abdrazakov, whose fiery Don conquered the audience with his powerful voice, dominating energy and arresting stage presence. Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately), Don Giovanni is not a role that one can master through learning or practice - one just has to be born for it. From the very first lines that Abdrazakov sang, it was clear that this artist was a born Don Giovanni.

While his champagne aria "Fin ch’han dal vino", dispatched with a beautiful ringing tone resembling the one of Cesare Siepi’s, exuberated abundant energy and lust for life, his serenade "Deh vieni alla finestra", performed in perfect pianissimo, was subtle and quite intoxicating. However, it was his rendition of the "La ci darem la mano" duet opposite soprano Veronica Cangemi that kept the whole house on the edge of their seats. Adding a hint of rough impatience to his tender singing, Abdrazakov’s Don wooed and hypnotized his Zerlina, while slowly helping her out of her modest wedding gown and into a revealing satin peignoir. But it was not his actions that seduced her but his voice that wooed, charmed and seduced. Making the most of the spectacular opportunities provided by Mozart’s score, Abdrazakov shaped his performance around the contrast of his vocal lines, switching from the softest pianissimos to the full-fledged fortissimos, and then letting his voice melt away again, only to come back with triple force moments later. This was a truly breathtaking and sensual performance. You had to give it to Abdrazakov: he owned the duet and through it – the whole show.

In his program article "Don Giovanni, Dramma Giocosa", John Pascoe remarked: "Of the more than 2,000 seductions that Don Giovanni has made, the most important and successful must be his seduction of the audience attending the performance".

Just like the women that Don Giovanni was so fond of, we opera fans love with our ears, and just like those women, we tend to be quite susceptible to the power of drama and beautiful singing. Thus, if you are in the mood for a little opera escapade, come to the Washington National Opera to enjoy this thrilling production and allow yourselves to be seduced.