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Levine leads triumphant `Giovanni'

LENOX -- Mozart's ``Don Giovanni" kept 7,649 people up past their bedtime Saturday night at Tanglewood. The magnificent performance by James Levine, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a prestigious international cast ended just before midnight. Most of the audience was still there at the close to experience the damnation of the Don, and remained long afterward to cheer the performers.

There were two late changes of cast. Luca Pisaroni , who came in to sing Don Giovanni's servant Leporello , proved a major discovery. The Italian bass is young, tall , and handsome, thereby dispelling many of the tiresome cliches that surround this role. His voice is light, but his singing was lithe, witty, responsive , and imaginative; Leporello became an alter ego for Don Giovanni. Tamar Iveri was fiery as Donna Anna, the aristocratic lady who starts off a very bad day for Don Giovanni -- the last day of his life. The soprano from the republic of Georgia has a gleaming, focused voice that created excitement as it cleaved the air in the vengeance aria. She was skating on thin ice in the second aria, but she managed the spins and turns cautiously. Her pluck earned her a big hand.

Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski is probably unmatched as Donna Elvira today -- her dark, lovely timbre has haunted me since her BSO debut in the Faure Requiem a dozen years ago. She sings with sophisticated elegance and made the abandoned woman who won't give up both amusing and touching. Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy's delicate voice cannot communicate Zerlina's peasant earthiness and country smarts, but she sang with exquisite sweetness.

Patrick Carfizzi offered a sturdy baritone and strong basic feelings as Zerlina's intended, and bass Morris Robinson , once a Boston University football player, poured out steady, burly tone as the Commendatore whose statue drags Don Giovanni off to hell. Tenor Matthew Polenzani was less wimpy than most Don Ottavios, and sang his first aria with mellifluous tone and elegant line, graced with stylish ornamentation; it won one of the biggest ovations of the evening.

There's a big buzz about charismatic Mariusz Kwiecien , who took the title role. He's in his early 30s, looks like Matthew McConaughey , and sings in a honeyed baritone propelled by musical and theatrical intelligence. But the talented Pole is not yet a Don Giovanni -- he's more a cuddly scamp than a daredevil; so far, he lacks edge and danger, and sometimes pushes his voice awfully hard.

The cast acted their roles on a platform behind the orchestra. The uncredited production was by Levine, releasing his inner stage director. He has conducted ``Don Giovanni" more than 60 times at the Metropolitan Opera and has learned what he wants to see -- and doesn't. The movements were dramatically clear, pertinently linked to musical form, and acoustically advantageous. There was even a good sight gag -- when Leporello recited the list of Don Giovanni's conquests, Levine walked up and handed Pisaroni the bound score of the opera. Donna Elvira anxiously scrutinized it, searching for her own name.

Levine knows the opera inside and out and his interpretation has changed over the years -- he is swifter and lighter now, so the force and weight at the end become overwhelming. He enables the singers to do whatever works best for them but within a stylish and absolutely secure framework. The BSO was playing the complete opera for the first time, but you would never have known it -- except maybe for the extra focus and excitement. Harpsichordist Kevin Murphy and BSO cellist Sato Knudsen were the alert continuo, and members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus excelled as peasants, servants, and demons.

Surtitles generated some of the laughter, but the performance is what grabbed hold. It was clear that many in the audience were experiencing ``Don Giovanni" for the first time, and that's a wonderful thing.

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