Review: Craig Verm Leads The Dallas Opera’s Compelling “Don Giovanni” Cast, April 27, 2018

The Dallas Opera mounted Robert Falls’ acclaimed production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. The Dallas performances were to have enlisted two veterans of the original 2014 production at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Polish baritone Mariusz Kweicien and Iowa bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, to repeat their roles of Don Giovanni and his servant, Leporello. Kwiecien’s illness caused a cast shuffle, with Texas baritone Craig Verm, the scheduled Masetto, taking over the opera’s title role.

Craig Verm’s Don Giovanni

Craig Verm, who possesses an appealing lyric baritone, portrayed Don Giovanni as a strategically charming, lethally self-absorbed sexual predator.

One can spend an entire career plumbing the dimensions of Mozart’s notorious antihero, yet Verm succeeded in the daunting assignment of replacing a seasoned superstar on short notice with his own credible realization of the iconic character.

[Below: Craig Verm as Don Giovanni; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]

This is the fourth performance I have reviewed by Craig Verm this year, including one performance as Guglielmo and two as Claudio [see Review: Seattle Opera’s “Cosi fan Tutte”: Costa-Jackson Sisters Lead Convincing Cast – January 13, 2018 and Review: “Beatrice and Benedict”, Seattle Opera Reinvents Berlioz’ Opera – February 24, 2018.]

Verm, demonstrating skill in the demanding vocal styles of both Mozart and Berlioz, appears in the early stages of an important international career.

Kyle Ketelsen’s Leporello

A short list of the world’s great contemporary Leporellos should prominently include Kyle Ketelsen, who has made Don Giovanni’s beleaguered companion his signature role.

Madamina, his “catalogue aria” of Giovanni’s conquests sung to Donna Elvira, was masterful, his graveyard confrontation with the Commendatore was hilarious, Ketelsen’s depiction of his love-hate relationship with his extraordinary boss engendered audience sympathy.

[Below: Kyle Ketelsen as Leporello; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]

Obviously comfortable in Falls’ staging [Review: Mariusz Kwiecien Excels in Robert Falls New “Don Giovanni” Production – Lyric Opera of Chicago, October 29, 2014], Ketelsen displayed a intimate understanding of the full compass of one of opera’s great comedic characters [See Review: Okulitch, Ketelsen Star in Santa Fe Opera’s New “Don Giovanni”, July 2, 2016.]

Laura Claycomb’s Donna Anna

Texas lyric coloratura soprano Laura Claycomb assayed the role of Donna Anna, her role debut. It proved to be a distinguished performance, exhibiting the vocal control one requires singing Mozart’s operas.

In the rapid-fire cadenzas of Non mir dir one got a hint of Claycomb’s coloratura prowess, suggesting to me that an artist like Claycomb, who triumphs in the title role of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”, can also be a great Donna Anna.

[Below: Donna Anna (Laura Claycomb, center) discovers the body of her father, the Commendatore (Morris Robinson, on ground) as Don Ottavio (David Portillo, left) looks on; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]

Claycomb, who is from Dallas, has spent much of the past several years in Europe with few appearances in Texas [Goerke, Claycomb, Graham in Stylishly Accessible “Ariadne auf Naxos” – Houston Grand Opera, April 29, 2011] or elsewhere in North America [Review: New Orleans Opera’s Spectacular “Lucia di Lammermoor” with Laura Claycomb, William Burden – March 15, 2015].

Claycomb’s future assignments are expected to include welcome engagements in American opera houses.

Katie Van Kooten’s Donna Elvira

Washington-born soprano Katie Van Kooten brought personality and vocal power to the role of Donna Elvira.

The character, who had spent three days of passionate lovemaking with Giovanni, assuming he was to be her husband, is one of the most vivid in all Mozart’s operas. In Falls’ production Elvira is the ultimate bad girl, arriving from Burgos on a motorcycle, determined to bring her man back into the fold. Van Kooten realized Falls’ interpretation brilliantly.

[Below: Katie Van Kooten as Donna Elvira; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]

Van Kooten is enjoying a thriving international operatic career, built in part on strong Texas roots at the Houston Grand Opera. At HGO she drew deserved acclaim for such signature roles as Queen Elizabeth [Joyce DiDonato is Vocally and Dramatically Convincing in Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda” – Houston Grand Opera, April 27, 2012] and Tatyana [Review: A Praiseworthy “Eugene Onegin” in Robert Carsen’s “World Treasure” Production – Houston Grand Opera, November 1, 2015].

Back in Texas, she is reunited with Claycomb, with whom previously she collaborated in a Britten opera [Incandescent Houston “Midsummer Night’s Dream” – January 25, 2009].

David Portillo’s Don Ottavio

Lyric tenor David Portillo, Texas-born like Verm and Claycomb, showed elegant phrasing in both of Don Ottavio’s demanding arias Dalla sua pace and Il mio tesoro.

[Below: David Porillo as Don Ottavio; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]

The former aria, in which he used an alternative version for its second verse, was especially memorable. The conductor, Maestro Emmanuel Villaume, demonstrated his approval by applauding with hands over his head.

Virginie Verrez’ Zerlina

French mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez’ large and lustrous voice was effectively used to portray a peasant girl who could hold her own with the dashing Don.

[Below: VIrginie Verrez as Zerlina; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]

Verrez, who had been memorable as Erika in Barber’s “Vanessa” [Review: An Elegant Production of Barber’s “Vanessa” at Santa Fe Opera, July 30, 2016], appears to be destined for opera’s iconic dramatic mezzo roles.

André Courville’s Masetto

Louisiana baritone André Courville was enlisted to replace the original Masetto, Craig Verm, who took over the role of Don Giovanni. Even in an opera with a cast of four other men, Masetto is a gem of a role on whom Mozart has lavished solo arias and ensemble pieces.

[Below: André Courville as Masetto; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]

The only member of the cast that I not seen previously in live performance, I was strongly and favorably impressed by Courville, as both singer and actor.

Morris Robinson’s Commendatore

Georgia basso Morris Robinson, who is a formidable presence in any role he inhabits, was perfectly cast for the ghostly Commendatore, the agent of divine or demonic justice.

[Below: Morris Robinson as the Commendatore; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]

Robinson’s deep resonant voice proved stunningly effective in conveying terror in the two scenes (graveyard and final banquet) in which the Commendatore’s ghost appears.

Maestro Emmanuel Villaume and The Dallas Opera Orchestra and Chorus

The Dallas Opera’s Music Director, French Maestro Emmanuel Villaume, presided over the Dallas Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducting Mozart’s masterpiece with sensitivity and authority.

Director Robert Falls

Robert Falls, whose theatrical work is associated especially with Chicago’s venerable Goodman Theater, created the production for the Lyric Opera in 2014. Falls has moved the action into early 20th century Spain, providing a series of striking visual images, without distracting from the storyline created by Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte.

[Below: Director Robert Falls; edited image, based on a publicity photograph.]

Numerous revisions in detail were noticeable – most importantly the staging of Don Giovanni’s descent into Hell. Dallas’ Winspear Opera House lacks the extensive below stage spaces that exist in Chicago’s Lyric Opera House, which permitted Don Giovanni’s long dining table to tilt on a steep angle and its contents (including Kwiecien’s Don who was on top of the table and who was scrambling towards the high end) to be dropped into Hell.

[Below: Don Giovanni (Craig Verm) begins to understand that, for once, he’s not going to get his way; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]

I suspect that those members of the Dallas audience who had not seen the Chicago ending were impressed with the ending devised for the Winspear. The greater part of the long table is pulled away and the remaining section on which Verm’s Giovanni is standing, descends into Hell’s smoke and fire.


The “Don Giovanni” produced by The Dallas Opera brought together a superb cast of Mozarteans performing in Robert Falls’ updated staging under the impressive baton of Emmanuel Villaume.

Although all scheduled performances have been completed, I was impressed by and strongly approved of both the production and each member of The Dallas Opera’s cast.