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Don Giovanni                  Des Moines Metro Opera, 2012

Michael Morain Des Moines Register

The Des Moines Metro Opera audience booed the star of Don Giovanni at the end of Friday’s opening night, and fortunately, he took it for the compliment it was.

The crowd could barely resist, actually. For three hours the swaggering Texas baritone Michael Mayes embodied the rascally title role with such appalling conviction that at the curtain call, it was hard to separate the actor from the character he played. The anti-hero (better known in Spanish as Don Juan) is a murderer, a heartbreaker, a liar, a horrendous boss, and – and – has awful table manners. So is it any wonder the audience cheered his trap-door descent into hell?

It’s that kind of show – lusty, absorbing, even a little raw, thanks to stage director Tim Ocel in his company debut. The only thing that is refined is Mozart’s score, in the capable hands of David Neely, the company’s newly appointed music director and principal conductor.

That’s what makes things so fun to watch: the contrast between beautiful music and beastly behavior. When Elvira (the spectacular Brenda Harris, a company veteran) gives Donny G a tongue-lashing, the projected English translation – “One ought to recognize your dark soul by your ugly face” – doesn’t exactly match the silvery Italian sounds spewing from her mouth. She is lovely when she is mad.

And she is mad a lot. The plot is like an episode of “Intervention,” the reality TV show in which the friends and families of people with addictions try to redirect them before it’s too late. In Don Giovanni’s case, the addiction is to women.

“He likes them plump when winter sets in, but in the summer he likes them slim,” sings his toady, Leporello (the expressive, clever Rod Nelman). “Even old ladies he can’t resist for the pleasure of adding them to his list.”

Among those who get sucked under the wake of his Love Boat are Anna (company newcomer Marjorie Owens) and the peasant bride Zerlina (Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez). Owens’s voice is as powerfully focused as Harris’s, which is rare, and Lopez-Hernandez makes the most of a much sweeter role than her debut last year in Don Pasquale.

The action slows down in the second act when each of the ladies and their attendant men (newcomers Matthew Plenk and Edward Hanlon) take turns airing their grievances, but their singing is sterling throughout. Anna’s father (Stefan Szkafarowsky) barely survives five minutes into the show before a fatal duel but returns in a big way, with a bold voice, for the dramatic finale. (The special effects were cooked up by lighting designer Barry Steele and scenic designer Andrew Boyce, who imagined Giovanni’s spare but classy stone palace.)

Mayes himself has a manly baritone, which is cultivated but still rough enough to befit a guy who staggers on stage shirtless in black leather pants. (Robin McGee supervised the costumes, or lack thereof.) His Giovanni is less suave than sociopathic, and one suspects he reeks of Drakkar Noir.

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