Britten’s War Requiem in the closing weeks of the Symphony Hall season had turned into something of a superspreader event for those onstage. So, when the Tanglewood season was announced and the second weekend’s programming was almost exclusively vocal, indulging in a few apotropaic rituals seemed appropriate. Fortunately, circumstances remained auspicious and the weekend performances went off as planned.

Andris Nelsons, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and cast
© Hilary Scott

Andris Nelsons' previous opera performances have, for the most part, favored large scale works by the likes of Strauss and Wagner. Saturday evening featured a reduced orchestra and a brisk, but pliant performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The weight and color of the opening chords loomed like an ominous storm cloud over the action until their spine-tingling return along with Ryan Speedo Green’s cavernous Commendatore in the final scene. Though much of what followed was lithe and bright, the darker undertones (of Donna Anna’s music, for example) remained vivid. The Boston Symphony Orchestra seemed to breathe along with the singers, while the singers – a fresh-voiced, youthful and diverse cast – blended with them. For a one-off, this was a well balanced, well integrated, ensemble performance with everyone firing on all cylinders.

In the title role, Ryan McKinny seemed a bit tentative at the outset but became more assertive, suave and confident as the performance progressed. The Don is protean, often adopting different personae as circumstances demand. McKinny made such histrionics clear through the coloring and weight of his voice and his acting. He and Nelsons collaborated on a Champagne Aria that was not only insanely fast but clearly articulated, a vocal highlight of the evening. Will Liverman as his sidekick limned Leporello with unaccustomed gravity thanks to a dark, robust voice not often associated with the role. The buffo aspects were character-based and never forced.

Though the comic effect of Donna Elvira always popping up to interrupt a potential conquest was mined for all its worth, Nicole Cabell was so genuine and persuasive in her ardor that a part of me wished Giovanni would wake up for a change and see the woman right in front of him. Yes, her line about joining a convent at the end elicited laughter, but it was also poignant because of the expert singing and acting which led up to it.

Andris Nelsons and cast
© Hilary Scott

Opera’s odd couple, Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, was much less of a mismatch thanks primarily to Samoan tenor, Amitai Pati, whose warm, coffee-colored voice and impassioned delivery lent some backbone to his character. A flawless legato and command of dynamics were also on display in “Dalla sua pace”. Michelle Bradley was vocally commanding, powerful and resolute in her search for vengeance, yet meltingly convincing in her expressions of affection towards her intended.

Masetto isn’t given much to do, but dressing him as a classic bro type complete with prodigious man bun and kimono cardigan endowed Cody Quattlebaum with an amiable doofus quality, someone whom Janai Brugger’s crafty, beguiling Zerlina would have no trouble wrapping around her around her little finger.

All in all, a very satisfying and auspicious return of opera to Tanglewood.

****1