“Don Giovanni” and “Falstaff” – Arizona Opera and “Of Mice and Men” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ April 4, 2016


“Don Giovanni” and “Falstaff”
Arizona Opera, Symphony Hall
Phoenix, AZ

The just concluded 2015/16 Arizona Opera Season represented a winning combination of well sung and visually exciting diverse productions along with some impressive firsts by our local company.  The Opera’s season included some of the finest young singers available, while every production was well conceived.

The company opened with a 1953 treasure set in the Southwest, “Arizona Lady.”  It looked and sounded like a Broadway tuner but it represented an interesting musical look at our state.  “Florencia en el Amazonas” was the first Spanish language opera commissioned in the United States and it marked the local debut of a work that’s received world-wide praise.  Third was a stunning new twist on Bizet’s traditional “Carmen” that marked Daniela Mack’s impressive debut as the sultry title character.  Since I’ve previously reviewed these operas, I comment here on the last two operas, “Don Giovanni,” and the first Arizona Opera production of Verdi’s final opera “Falstaff.”  Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” wasn’t a remarkable production but it was well sung.  Combining a streamlined narrative and monologues from Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” with the crazy comic machinations of the Bard’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Falstaff” proved a comic gem.

The season further established Arizona Opera’s musical maturity along with the vibrant stagings.  Gone are the days of antiquated productions from second rate opera companies as Arizona Opera selects productions from the best American regional opera companies or produces its own versions that foster Arizona Opera’s national name.  For 2016/17 opera season tickets, call the Arizona Opera box office at 602-266-7464 or order online at www.azopera.org.

Grades: “Don Giovanni”: C
“Falstaff”: A


“Of Mice and Men”
Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona Theatre Company’s powerful production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” is a disturbing tale about two migrant California field workers as it explores several themes including friendship and loyalty, intellectual challenges, plus emotional immaturity that allows unintentional deaths during the dark days of the 1930s depression.  As George, a smart but uneducated man, and Lennie, a strong man with restricted mental acumen, find work at a California ranch, the pair dream of owning their own land.  They confront several ranch hands including Crooks, an educated black worker, who confuses Lennie who just wants to pet soft objects.  Lennie’s strength force him to unintentionally kill everything he touches including the floozy wife of an angry co-worker.  Lennie’s mistake forces George to take action so Lennie doesn’t suffer for what he’s done.  The well-known novella was adapted for the stage by Steinbeck creating a strikingly open and honest play when it debuted in 1937.

Directed with throbbing emotional earnestness by Mark Clements, the play is brilliantly performed by an exemplary cast that capture each characters unique complexity to craft a story of touching honesty that gives audiences a heartfelt emotional wallop.

The rarely staged “Of Mice and Men” requires gentle but subtly forceful acting that allow superlative performers to develop and express each characters’ emotional limitations.  The superlative ATC production continues through April 17.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A