"Good evening, I'm Donny G. Welcome to my club."
The beaming figure greeting audience members at the Woman's Club of Minneapolis for the Skylark Opera Theatre's new production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" was none other than the leading man himself.
Baritone Gabriel Preisser was clearly getting a little schmoozing in before the music started. He posed for selfies and passed out canapés.
The Woman's Club was re-imagined in director Bob Neu's bold production as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, lair of the sexual scavenger Giovanni.
The building's lounge, ballroom, dining room and theater were all utilized in Neu's peripatetic staging, with audience members climbing stairs and traipsing from location to location as the action unraveled.
Preisser's Giovanni was the evening's standout performance, as it must be with this opera.
Suave, caddishly handsome and worryingly convincing in his seductive maneuvers, Preisser combined an oak-solid baritone with a high-energy domination of the stage, generating consternation in all the characters around him.
Vocally, Preisser was indefatigable, as dominant in the climactic damnation scene as he was supple and insinuating in the serenade he sings to a serving maid in Act Two.
Baritone Andrew Wilkowske, as Giovanni's servant Leporello, sprang a major surprise in the serenade by playing the elegant guitar accompaniment himself. He proved a highly effective foil to Preisser's Giovanni, and a skillful practitioner of the sight gags director Neu inserted to animate the pair's boisterous relationship.
Wilkowske excelled vocally, especially in the relentless patter of the "Catalogue" aria enumerating Giovanni's pan-national conquests. His articulation of the production's English translation was immaculate.
Bass Benjamin Sieverding, a resident artist at Minnesota Opera, worked an impressive double shift as the peasant bridegroom Masetto and the murdered Commendatore who makes a devastating reappearance as Giovanni's nemesis.
Among the female performers, Minneapolis-born soprano Quinn Shadko merits a special mention for the airy vocal quality and persuasive acting skills she brought to the tricky reconciliation with Masetto following her skirmish with a predatory Giovanni. In this scene, as in many others, Neu showed a sharp appreciation of how the mood of Mozart's opera can flip in a nanosecond from frivolity to upset to confrontation. That sense of instability grows more acute as the action spirals toward its fiery conclusion.
One moment curling up in anguish as he views an emotionally disjointed Donna Elvira, the next pelting Leporello with a bucket of popcorn, Giovanni is a dangerously unhinged individual by the opera's conclusion — Neu and Preisser make sure that we feel it.
Mary Jo Gothmann accompanied on piano, playing a major part in stoking the dramatic impetus of Neu's imaginative production.
Good as Skylark Opera's "Carmen" was last winter, "Don Giovanni" sets the bar considerably higher in terms of the resurgent company's ambition and artistic achievement.
Terry Blain writes about classical music and theater.