‘Don Giovanni’ meets the Baroque Orchestra of N.J.

via The Daily Record 

Written by Mike Tschappat | For NJ Press Media
"Don Giovanni" culminates the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey's Summer Festival / FILE PHOTO

Don Giovanni is one of opera’s most complex characters. He’s charming, but he’s also a seducer, a bully and a murderer.

Baritone Robert Prowse is charged with bringing to life one of music’s greatest scoundrels when the Baroque Orchestra of New Jerseypresents a concert performance of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” in Dolan Performance Hall at the College of Saint Elizabeth on Aug. 21.

It’s the culmination of the orchestra’s Summer Festival that begins Sunday (Aug. 14) with a concert that includes Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1, played by Vincent Ip, winner of the Pearl and Julius Young Rising Stars Music Competition. The festival will continue with music throughout the week.

Prowse has worked on the role of Don Giovanni (Italian for Don Juan) with New York Opera Forum, but this will be his first performance of the opera before an audience. He’s eager to get inside the head of Mozart’s rogue.

“Different singer-actors have different takes on Don Giovanni,” Prowse said. “He, of course, is known as a womanizer, but it’s often difficult to decide how much that defines him.”

In the course of the opera, he tries to seduce Donna Anna, kills her father the Commendatore, tries to seduce Zerlina, beats up Zerlina’s boyfriend, tries to seduce Donna Elvira’s maid, and eventually gets dragged to hell by the statue of the Commendatore.

“I’m not sure what a psychologist would do with him,” Prowse said. “He definitely has some issues there.”

In opera, the dramatic portrayal is guided by the music, and Mozart didn’t make it easy for the singer of the title role. There are lengthy recitatives (sung dialogue), and Prowse said it’s easy to lose one’s place.

“Another part is the extended ensembles, the big finales, Act I and Act II. Both acts have lengthy finales where a lot goes on and the music continually changes along with the drama. And so propelling that forward is also a challenge.”

This will be Prowse’s first appearance with the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey. He has worked with its maestro, Robert Butts, when they collaborated for Opera at Florham’s production of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” He sang the role of Germont.

“I enjoy him so much,” Prowse said of Butts. “He’s very knowledgeable and easygoing and yet he accomplishes so much. He’s just a very fine musician and he really knows how to pull things together musically.”

Although this is a concert performance, there will be costumes and some stagecraft. Prowse will be working with Karole Lewis as Donna Anna, Kevin Peters as Don Ottavio, Tonia Manteneri as Donna Elvira and Don Sheasley as the Commendatore.

“It’s a wonderful cast,” Prowse said. “We have some amazing singers. It’s just going to bring the music to life.”

A symposium, “The Enigma of the Don,” starting at 1 p.m. and led by Butts and Jude Pfister, will precede the performance.

Those who prefer their music instrumental can enjoy Sunday’s orchestral concert. It will include music by Handel and Bach, but also works by lesser-known composers such as Chevalier de Saint-George, Franz Doppler and Joseph Reicha.

But the centerpiece of the concert will be the 19-year-old Ip playing Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Ip, who began playing the piano at age 5, is a student at the John J. Cali School of Music in Montclair.

Those who are hard up for cash can still enjoy the Summer Festival by dropping in at 12:15 p.m. at Grace Church in Madison to hear keyboard recitals by a variety of artists. Admission is free.

The church will host a chamber music concert on Aug. 19. A play with music about the late Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, famous for his imaginative madrigals as well as for murdering his wife and her lover, will be staged at the church on Aug. 20.

Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey Summer Festival

Orchestra Magic

3 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 14)

Dolan Performance Hall, College of Saint Elizabeth, 2 Convent Road, Morris Township

$35; $25 seniors; $5 students (age 21 and younger with ID)

Lunchtime Keyboard

12:15 p.m. Aug. 15-19

Grace Church, 4 Madison Ave., Madison


An Evening of Great Chamber Music

7:30 p.m. Aug. 19

Grace Church, 4 Madison Ave., Madison

$20; $15 seniors; $5 students (age 21 and younger with ID)

Gesualdo: A Music Drama

7:30 p.m. Aug. 20

Grace Church, 4 Madison Ave., Madison

$20; $15 seniors; $5 students (age 21 and younger with ID)

‘Don Giovanni’

3 p.m. Aug. 21

Dolan Performance Hall, College of Saint Elizabeth, 2 Convent Road, Morris Township

$35; $25 seniors; $5 students (age 21 and younger with ID)

973-366-8922; www.baroqueorchestra.org


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