Eugene Weekly : Music : 3.12.09

Greatest Opera Ever?
Don Giovanni at the Hult
By Suzi Steffen

The set began with pencil sketches in a coffee shop near NYU. The director comes from the Met, and the baritone’s a rising star all over the world. The story comes from Italy through an Austrian composer — and it’s all in Eugene.

Michael Todd Simpson IS … Don Giovanni

Perhaps you remember bits of Don Giovanni from Amadeus. If you’d like to see the real thing — the creepy vengeance statue, the equally creepy unrepentant would-be rapist and the women who love/hate/spurn him — you need to get tickets for the Eugene Opera’s Don Giovanni, opening Friday for a two-performance run. The Eugene Opera’s executive director, Mark Beudert, promises an experience that “has everything” from comedy to drama to a literal depiction of hell, from a hot young baritone to new sets and costumes to a Metropolitan Opera director.

The set, a unit piece that Beudert says will evoke the Mediterranean feel of Italy, had its start when director Fabrizio Melano met Beudert in New York and provided a pencil sketch. In addition to the new set and new costumes, and the attraction of an internationally known director to the Eugene stage, Beudert got baritone Michael Todd Simpson to play the don himself. 

This is all good, for the Eugene Opera, like many arts companies nationwide, is suffering from its audience’s economic issues. Though the Hult Center company has recovered gracefully from the near-bankruptcy of a few years ago, the opera still needs to meet its budget for this year. Ticket sales weren’t strong for Orpheus in the Underworld, though day-of sales partly made up for slow advance sales, but audience demand for the semi-staged one-off Il Trovatore helped the balance sheet look a lot healthier.

Now, with the last production of the 2008-2009 season, Beudert says that advance sales are below projections. But he’s optimistic; he says Eugeneans will come to “the greatest opera ever written.” Beudert isn’t alone in his opinion of the opera. French composer Charles Gounod (Faust) called it “an unequalled and immortal masterpiece; popular, universally accepted, and consecrated forever.”

High praise for the story of a man who’s a serial seducer, who attempts to rape a young woman and kills her father when he comes to her aid, who almost gets his servant killed in a harebrained attempt to escape, who never repents even when the terrifying statue threatens him. Gounod praised the music above all, calling it a work of “uninterrupted perfection.” The orchestra, which consists of musicians from the Eugene Symphony and others, performs a score that Beudert says is “Mozart at his best, nimble and psychologically astute.” 

The cast, Beudert says, “is Seattle Opera-level,” including rising star Simpson. Lee Gregory, who has also played Don Giovanni, serves as the don’s servant Leporello, and soprano Kate Mangiameli sings love-betrayed Donna Elvira. UO teacher and local fave Laura Decher Wayte sings the part of the almost-seduced Zerlina.

So, is Don Giovanni the greatest opera in the world? Find out by attending March 13 or 15 — and tell us what you think after the show at, where I’ll post my thoughts after the March 15 performance.

Don Giovanni. 7:30 pm Friday, March 13. 2:30 pm Sunday, March 15. Hult Center. • 682-5000. $20-$60