Don Giovanni and Via della Pace

Mozart’s opera buffa Don Giovanni is quite a bit about class. The don lures lovers by the offer of marriage into unimaginable wealth. This was not so apparent in that other Don Giovanni I saw—the Franco Zeffirelli production at the Met Opera, starring Plácido Domingo. In the Met production every character was dressed opulently. These fine points are not lost in the downtown Amore Opera’s Don Giovanni, performed by opera stars and starlets who never sing flat. The overture, by a 24-piece orchestra directed by Douglas Martin sounds as sweet as it did at the Met.

Rob Garner commands the role of the rake, even doing a respectable turn at a sword fight. (Here he is with another Taci superstar, Brad Cresswell.) Garner’s sonorous Deh vieni all finestra, o mio tesoro had tenderness and soul. His descent into hell was thrillingly hammy.

It’s only a measure of my respect for this handsome baritone that I felt some distress when he removed his tricorn hat and his curly, pony-tailed wig seemed momentarily flattened down. Don Giovanni would be nothing without his right hand man, Leporello. Tenor Frederic Rice was extraordinary as Leporello, squeezing every comic possibility from the role. He was somewhat apologetic, rather than boastful, as he sang Madamina, il catalogo è questo.

The don’s women are either paid supplicants back at his palace or noblewomen and peasants alike who are understandably angry at his behavior. Victoria Wefer, Iris Karlin, and Sarah Moulton Faux were full-throttle as Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Zerlina. The Amore production suggests that the clown Leporello gets together in the end with one of Giovanni’s exes, the sadly pregnant young Donna Elvira, offering a happy future at least for these two.

If any stage production in New York City deserved a standing ovation that day it was this engrossing, faithful, and fleet production by Nathan Hull. But most of the sold-out audience was too old to jump to their feet. That’s the thing about opera. Amore Opera tries to expand the audience by offering witty productions with a revolving cast, well-matched subtitles, and charming sets. It goes without saying that tickets cost a fraction of what they do at the Met. Amore is looking for a new home, unfortunately losing the gemlike Connelly theatre in the East Village. Hurry to see them there.

Via della Pace is the real thing and has a lot in common with other historic Italian restaurants/caffès with its murals, tin ceiling, distressed wood, good food, and a silent soccer game on a screen over the bar. Comforting pastas and a well-turned tuna steak give Via della Pace an edge over competition. Or maybe it’s their hot pressed, toasted bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Fresh bruschetta is piled high and comes in broad variety, served with a boat of oil and vinegar dressing. It’s irresistible to linger further, over coffee and Italian pastries or biscotti.

Epic Poetry and Las Tapas

Epic Poetry traces a young woman’s search for the father she never knew. The resourceful Connie Castanzo is our heroine, and Noah Witke plays the 13-year-old half brother she discovers on her quest. They enact a story that is being played out more and more in our fractured world.

James Bosley’s play gives new meaning to the search by splicing in the Odyssey and the Iliad. The Greek chorus is composed of characters met along the way. Drummer Jason B. Lucas punctuates the story. Tubular bells, singing wine glasses, and Carmina Burana are used to great effect.

This odyssey snakes through the subway and out to the sunnier outer boroughs. Set designer Duane Pagano transforms the space with city skyline and chain link fence, and when the action moves to a trailer park, pink flamingos and plastic windmills. A trailer park couple is embodied with gusto by Elizabeth A. Bell and Carlos Molina. Rik Walter provides more comic relief. The lovely actor Bill Christ is the long-lost father returning from a war. He is not our heroine's hoped for and dreamed of father, but she has travelled so far that she knows how to handle, philosophically, any surprise that life deals her. What a good story she’ll have to tell when she returns home.

Up Theater Company is dedicated to entertaining the Inwood neighborhood with regional theatre of the highest order. “We eschew crowd pleasing chestnuts” is how they put it in their mission statement. They are lucky to get a director known for his edgy work in Shakespeare (including Hamlet set in a prison, the well-received Bound in a Nutshell, 2008). Gregory Wolfe directs this new play for Up Theater with characteristic grace and wit.

Photo Becca Pulliam @Please Repeat the Question
The Washington Heights Inwood neighborhood that supports its local cultural establishments has a selection of fine restaurants. We were directed to Refried Beans, but went instead to the new Las Tapas, serving Spanish happy hour pintxo or tapas. We were seated in a back garden with a fountain.

Diners around us ate heaping salads with a side of cassava chips before entrées , but we stuck to the tapas, or small plates, menu. Pulpo y Papas, tender octopus with Yukon Gold potatoes was a classic. Tortilla, the ultimate potato omelet is served warm here (rather than room temperature as we've had it before). Creamy croquettes come with two sauces. Grilled asparagus was so fresh, straight off the grill, with melted Manchego. Our favorite was Chicharon de Cuerda, or pork belly with a crispy crust, served on chickpeas in a heady red sauce. Toasted baguette allows you to mop up. Complimentary garlic olives help you wait for your food to arrive. Las Tapas serves six kinds of sangria, including a four-glass sample. A long happy hour (from four to eight) makes anything possible.