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Don Giovanni

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Walking over uneven sidewalks in an as yet ungentrified downtown neighborhood, one wonders if the intrepid Pacific Opera Project (POP) might have asked too much of its audience with its choice of venue for Don Giovanni. Once inside The Vortex, however, any fears are dispelled. The company's faithful audience fills the tables, where wine and appetizer plates are offered, as well as the general seating area. All gathered to watch Don Giovanni’s swift journey from imperious autocrat and unapologetic libertine to a friendless man facing damnation.

Don Juan stories are as numerous and varied as the tales of King Arthur, but the reason we return again and again to Don Giovanni is that, despite the libraries of commentary written on Mozart and Da Ponte’s opera, it remains a proudly ambiguous masterpiece. The Victorians accepted the narrative as a straightforward morality tale, but it’s clear from Da Ponte’s uneasy mix of comedy and female violation that his aim is far more complex. And Mozart’s miraculous score pulses with a febrile vitality which compels the listeners without ever allowing them to relax.

Artistic Director of POP, and Director/Designer for the opera, Josh Shaw sets the production in the criminal underworld of an American city during Prohibition. The choice conjures images from Warner Brothers films and comic books which Shaw exploits to create an immediate bond with the audience. Gun battles with policemen resonate with an immediacy that swordplay in Seville never could.

Shaw’s productions are not simply operas shoehorned into an unconventional background. They are true adaptations, and even those intimately familiar with the opera need to read Shaw’s supertitles which move beyond a simple translation of Da Ponte’s libretto. Plot points, too, may be reimagined. Giovanni always kills the Commendatore in the first scene, but Shaw adds a trail of tragedy that will compound the body count in a surprising way for those who know the opera.

Giovanni (Adrian Rosas) and his gang wear dayglo suits out of Dick Tracy, but his doings are far from cartoonish. Rosas sings with command, but his Giovanni remains a cipher. Other singers use charm or sensuality to mitigate the character’s monstrous acts. But Rosas is blunt rather than suave, resulting in a Giovanni who lies out of habit, betrays his friends without compunction, and seduces in order to feel alive. This is a Giovanni for our troubled times.

E. Scott Levin is a veteran of POP productions, and Leporello’s comedy fits the singer like a glove. Saira Frank is a profoundly wounded Donna Anna which offers different colors than the character’s usual avenger demeanor. Robert Norman’s nicely sung Don Ottavio may lose one of his arias, but under Shaw’s direction, he has more drive and purpose than I’ve ever seen.

Daria Somers downplays Donna Elvira’s madness, which may earn her fewer laughs, but she gains a more involving and sympathetic portrayal. Tiffany Ho’s sweet-toned Zerlina and Luvi Avendano’s well-acted Masetto manage to be both sexy and funny as Don Giovanni does his best to destroy their marriage.

At well over 6 feet, Andrew Potter’s Commendatore can’t help but dominate his brief appearances, but his glorious, stentorian tones thunder out revenge in a truly terrifying manner which makes Giovanni’s fiery fate a foregone conclusion. The moment is further heightened by Shaw’s most effective visual and the decision to cut the final sextet.

Ryan Murray conducts the orchestra with sensitivity and style, though the venue’s limitations put him in a difficult position for the singers, resulting in some problems with entrances and rhythms.

Shaw’s production is one his best. While he pushes the envelope, he doesn’t force the moment as he sometimes can in comedic moments. A perfect example is his careful handling of Zerlina’s “Batti, batti,” a difficult moment made even more perilous by the realities of our world. I wouldn’t be surprised if this production is revived like his Star Trek Abduction or his Boheme adaptation.

The Vortex    April 13 – 22, 2018





Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.