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.

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