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'Don Giovanni' a sophisticated turn for Rimrock Opera Co.
LARRY MAYER/Gazette StaffCraig 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.

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.

If you go Rimrock Opera Company's production of "Don Giovanni" ends its two-part run Sunday, with a 2 p.m. matinee at the Alberta Bair Theater.

Tickets range from $15 to $55. Call 256-6052.

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.

Christene Meyers may be reached at 657-1243 or at cmeyers@billingsgazette.com.

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