Don Giovanni

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National talents in Billings for ‘Don Giovanni’

CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Entertainment Editor | Posted: Thursday, October 16, 2003 11:00 pm
It’s down to the wire for Rimrock Opera Company’s autumn production of “Don Giovanni.”
One of opera’s most colorful sinners will be played with gusto by Metropolitan Opera star bass, Craig Hart, when he makes his ROC debut in the title role.

The Mozart opera hits the boards at the Alberta Bair Theater Friday and Sunday, Oct. 24 and 26, leaving a day of rest in between for the singers to pamper their voices for the rigorous weekend.

ROC artistic director Douglas Nagel is excited with his cast, “top notch without exception,” he promises.

Besides Hart, who is a fishing buddy of Nagel’s, has lured Deborah Longino to sing Donna Elvira. An old friend and singing buddy of Nagel’s, she is remembered in Billings for her striking work as ROC’s Tosca. Nagel will sing a part, too, taking on the role of Leporello, one of four difficult and showy bass roles in the opera. Nagel has sung all but Masetto in seven different productions.

“In fact, I know most of these gifted singers through other opera productions,” Nagel said this week. “Craig and I met at Opera Idaho in ‘La Boheme’ in 1997 and spent time shopping together at Eddie Bauer and fishing tackle shops.”

The two also appeared together in “The Flying Dutchman” in Buffalo, N.Y.
Nagel’s gift for cross pollination helped lure Barbara Day Turner back to conduct the pit orchestra. It’s her third Billings appearance and Nagel met her 21 years ago when Turner’s sister introduced them during a rehearsal at the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco. Her husband, Daniel Helfgot, worked with Nagel at West Bay Opera in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1986. He is stage director of “Don G.”

ROC goes international with soprano Sandra Rubalcava, born in Guadalajara, Mexico. She is a fourth-year resident with Opera San Jose, where Nagel met her. He enticed her to Billings to sing the role of Donna Anna.

In keeping with the ROC’s mission to give local and regional opera singers the opportunity to perform with national and international stars, Nagel booked Karen Clift, of Sheridan, Wyo., to sing the role of Zerlina. “She’s a real find and this is her ROC debut,” says Nagel. She teaches voice and is a homemaker in Sheridan, with numerous CDs to her credit.

Jan Michael Kliewer, Powell, Wyo., and Edward Harris, Billings, appear again, as Masetto and Commendatore. They are favorites with ROC fans.
Nagel is also proud of “Eastern Montana’s gift to the opera world.” He booked tenor Christopher Bengochea for the role of Don Ottavio. “He’s a Brockton boy and has great personality and potential,” says Nagel. He played the part of a smuggler in Carmen.

Turner and Helfgot spend time at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, where he is director of opera. She is well known nationally as guest conductor.

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Photos by LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff Deborah Longino plays Lady Elvira. Photos by LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff Don Giovanni (Craig Hart), struggles with Donna Anna (Sandra Rubalcava) in a scene from the show.

ROC attracts top talent for opera ‘Don Giovanni’

CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Entertainment Editor | Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2003 11:00 pm
One of opera’s most delicious bad boys gets spectacular treatment as “Don Giovanni” takes the stage tonight.

Celebrating the end of its fourth season, Rimrock Opera Company caps its two-part “Mozart Meets Montana” season. It opened to raves last March with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” featuring Cassandra Norville, Kiel Klaphake, Lisa Lombardy, Robert Wood and other stellar voices directed by ROC’s Douglas Nagel.

The peripatetic artistic director has treated himself to a showy supporting role for “Don G,” also known as “Don Juan.” Set in Seville, the opera was first performed in Prague in 1787 and has enraptured audiences since with its romance, passion, jealousies and betrayals, the stuff of all good opera.
Assured by a nationally known husband-wife team at the production helm, Barbara Day Turner conducting and Daniel Helfgot doing stage direction, Nagel has freed himself from directing responsibilities to sing one of the four bass roles, Leporello, the Don’s dashing valet-de-chambre.

“It’s great having such talented people on the production end so I can concentrate on this challenging role,” Nagel said. He says after recently playing the evil Scarpia, it’s fun to provide some comic relief. In seven fully staged productions, Nagel has sung three of the four bass roles in the bass-driven opera, but never Masetto.

In that part, as the man betrothed to the peasant girl Zerlina, is ROC regular Jan Michael Kliewer, a Northwest College teacher in Powell, Wyo.
Says Nagel, “When he first auditioned ROC four years ago, I thought ‘where has he been, with the gorgeous voice’ and there he is, nestled in Powell teaching music.”

Another Wyomingite, Karen Clift, sings Zerlina.

In the title role, Nagel is thrilled to have Craig Hart, “for his big, deep voice. He takes complete charge, commands the stage. It’s thrilling.”
He and Deborah Longino, who plays Donna Elvira, the young lady from Burgos, work fabulously together, “and she owns the role,” says Nagel. ROC fans will remember her stirring Tosca.

Others he touts as “spectacular, memorable,” include Montana kid and tenor Christopher Bengochea, who plays the part of Don Ottavio, betrothed to Donna Anna.

“He has worked so hard and I see big things for him. I’m proud that ROC gave him his first big role in Montana,” Nagel said.

While all the key players have national credits, the opera goes international with soprano Sanda Rubalcava, as Donna Anna, the commandant’s daughter. Rubalcava is a native of Mexico.

“She has a gift for making singing look easy and she and Bengochea have a real chemistry,” says Nagel.

Another ROC favorite, Edward Harris, wears two hats, as the Commendatore Don Pedro (Donna Anna’s father), and as preparer of the chorus.

“We’re working hard to get the Italian recitative fluid,” says Nagel, although as usual the English text will be projected above the stage.

He is thrilled that the hard-working chorus of more than 30 persons drives as far as three and four hours for the nightly rehearsals. One even flies in. Commuting choristers come from Whitefish, Big Timber, Red Lodge and Ten Sleep, Wyo., and six choristers are talented high schoolers recruited and groomed by Nagel since ROC’s inception.

“We’re changing their lives, building future audiences and
performers,” says Nagel. “That’s part of our mission:”

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LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff Craig Hart plays Don Giovanni, the licentious nobleman and title character, and Douglas Nagel is his showy sidekick and servant, Leporello. The two are seen here in rehearsal for Rimrock Opera Company’s “Don Giovanni,” which opened Friday. The two are minus the wigs that enhance the noble tone and establish the period of 1600s Seville.

‘Don Giovanni’ a sophisticated turn for Rimrock Opera Co.

CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Arts & Entertainment Editor | Posted: Friday, October 24, 2003 11:00 pm
Sweet sounds in the form of artfully delivered arias, dulcet duets and tuneful trios waft from the stage as music to the ears in an engaging production of “Don Giovanni.”

Able musicians sensitively conducted by maestro Barbara Day Turner provide the essential ingredient for seamless delivery of the goods in Rimrock Opera Company’s latest endeavor.

The story of the shameless title character, a lothario with no self-control, has been a favorite with audiences and singers since it debuted in Prague in 1787. Alberta Bair Theater-goers have only a single Sunday chance left to enjoy the fruits of ROC’s labors.

Mozart set the tale in the mid-1600s in the Spanish city of Seville. Beautifully painted set pieces establish a grand and gothic backdrop for the ageless story of this charming bad boy.

ROC artistic director Douglas Nagel produces the sophisticated endeavor, directed with humor and panache by Turner’s spouse, Daniel Helfgot, director of opera at University of Missouri.

Nagel steals the show, in all the right ways, as the grumbling gigolo-wannabe, second banana to his master, Don G.

It is appropriate that Nagel’s comically put-upon, day-saving character, Leporello, is first on stage. Nagel, after all, is the inspiration and spiritual guide of ROC.

His stage savvy is matched by Craig Hart in the title role – cunning and puffed up with bravado as he woos women of all ages, shapes and sizes.
As Leporello tells us in a spirited accounting, he likes fat ones in the winter and slim ones in the summer. Rank is of no importance.

For Don G., the conquest is the game, but he meets his intellectual match with Donna Elvira, delightfully portrayed by Deborah Longino, remembered for her passionate Tosca. She, along with Hart, are old friends of Nagel’s from Opera Idaho.

The major players are all strong and perceptively cast to blend voice and body type, including Wyomingites Jan Michael Kliewer and Karen Clift as the likeable peasants Masetto and Zerlina.

Nagel’s casting genius brings a gem to light with Christopher Bengochea’s Don Ottavio, a fresh find from the small community of Brockton. He adds personality and passion as Donna Anna’s intended.

In the latter role, Sandra Rubalcava cuts a dashing stage presence as she has done with Nagel in his training ground, Opera San Jose. In his brief role as the Commendatore, snuffed out early on by the Don, Ed Harris contributes his usual sound vocal strength. But he deserves greater kudos for his masterwork with the chorus, whose Italian sounds delightful.

The look is good, too, as the choristers dress the stage with bits of business and stop short of mugging to preserve the critical cohesive sound.

What a pleasure to hear so many fine bass voices in the Don, Leporello, Masetto and the commandant. But, truly, there are no weak vocal links here.
Masks, cloaks and wigs contribute stylishly, and Barbara Hogg’s costume work is superb. Many behind-scenes efforts reap rewards, from ROC boosters John Baber, Dorinda Doolittle, Bernard Rose, Jeff Boschee and Sandi Rabas, whose steady contributions range from managing the orchestra to lighting design and rehearsal pianist. The ROC orchestra is bold but not overpowering.

This is a must-see for opera lovers, and all of us proud of ROC’s continuing integrity and promise. If the action and music don’t sweep you away, you need an artistic jump-start. Or you may join Don G., in a fiery gulf of regret.