Jason Hardy and Daniel Okulitch
in Don Giovanni
(© Carol Rosegg)
Jason Hardy and Daniel Okulitch
in Don Giovanni
(© Carol Rosegg)
If the mission of New York City Opera is to find and nurture young talent, then Christopher Alden's surprisingly ascetic new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni is a resounding success. Six of the eight principal singers here are making their company debuts, and their effect can be summed up in one word: Wow!

Daniel Okulitch as the compulsively womanizing title character has a resonating bass-baritone, forceful in all registers. Lean and hungry-looking, he's authoritative as a man who might have benefited from a 12-step group, had one been available to him at the time.

Stefania Dovhan's severely wronged Donna Anna infuses her singing throughout with light and dark colors; soprano Joelle Harvey lends lovely pianissimos to her puzzled, native-costumed Zerlina; Gregory Turay as Don Ottavio erases all traces of wimpdom with a melting tenor; and Kelly Markgraf as Masetto also brings urgency to his assignment as Zerlina's ardent defender. As the Commendatore, Brian Kontes endures an agonizing, head-banging, early-act-one death at Don Giovanni's brutal hands and is then required to lie in an open coffin for far too long. But when he sings, his bass-baritone is eminently rich.

Not making their debuts, but making their presence known, are Keri Alkema as jilted Donna Elvira, who may be doing the most exquisite work of all, and Jason Hardy as the put-upon Leporello, who has only momentary problems outsinging Gary Thor Wedow's bright-sounding orchestra. Fortunately, Hardy has no trouble exhibiting other talents, like juggling and balancing a chair on his chin.

Those black, ladder-back chairs -- which constitute most of Paul Steinberg's stark set -- are the keystone to Alden's vision. As the overture ominously plays, the ensemble (minus five children who make a late appearance) enters solemnly to sit down in what resembles the black-paneled ante-room of a Northern European church. Above them, a neon cross blinks on as they wait like refugees gathered to await housing assignments elsewhere. Although the chairs are rearranged -- and sometimes removed only to be brought back -- none of the action takes place outside this bleak environment.

Even more peculiarly, the singers spend a good deal of time falling to the floor, where they often crawl around. Or they spend an inordinate amount of time groping each other. In one scene, Giovanni makes graphic love to Donna Elvira's maid (Alexandra Hastings, dressed and wigged to look like Louise Brooks in Lulu). Meanwhile for the scene when Giovanni orders Leporello to seduce Donna Elvira, Leporello enters bare-chested and in trousers, while the scheming Don sports a jacket over black briefs. Both Okulitch and Hardy have the kind of buffed physiques to sustain this directorial choice, but this beautiful opera shouldn't come off as a cousin of Oh, Calcutta. Luckily, the gorgeous singing more than compensates for Alden's odd directorial choices.