Watching veteran bass Samuel Ramey perform the supporting role of Leporello, the servant to Don Giovanni—the title role that Ramey played countless times throughout his long career—it was hard not to be struck by the irony of a singer at the twilight of a career juxtaposed next to a young singer, Italian baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, who has been principally thus far associated with Leporello singing the Don next to yesteryear’s Don of Dons. But old habits apparently die hard, and as D’Arcangelo was singing away, the still far more charismatic Ramey could be seen actually mouthing the starring role along with him throughout the evening. Even more ironically, at one point the staging calls for Ramey to mouth for D’Arcangelo, when the plot calls for one to pose as the other. It was the highest drama to be experienced in an otherwise problematic production that was hopelessly confused and convoluted. Unlike the responsive ensemble of Chicago Symphony musicians assembled for “The Abduction From the Seraglio,” this alternate set of players of more high profile orchestral personnel never got the right feel for this music, performing in a consistently stodgy and heavy-handed manner, despite conductor James Conlon’s best attempts to keep things light and moving. Even worse, the recitatives are left to be played by a harpsichord far from the stage that had singers falling even further behind. Add to all this that the cast assembled to sing these iconic roles are by and large ill-equipped to sing Mozart and substitute heavy vibrato and a lack of precision for music that needs to be flexible and transparent, and the contrast couldn’t be more dramatic than the excellence being displayed during the “Abduction” performances that are running in repertory with this poorly done “Don” that unfortunately, descends into hell long before the Don himself gets there in the climax. (Dennis Polkow)
Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” plays through August 17 at Ravinia’s Martin Theatre, Lake-Cook at Green Bay Rds., Highland Park, (847)266-5100.