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MOZART'S LIVELY `DON GIOVANNI' WORKS WELL ON A SMALL SCALE

Having just read in Sunday's paper that not only is Mozart the world's favorite classical composer, but listening to Mozart makes you smarter, I was more than eager to wend my way to the Egyptian Theatre Monday night and see what "Don Giovanni" would do for me. I'm not sure my IQ gained any points, but I was well entertained and impressed by the work of the lively, talented Western Opera Theater.

The tale of the lecherous Don Juan and his downfall has held the boards for two centuries, in productions that come in many sizes - usually large scale. But it comes across well enough in intimate chamber-size production, with only two-piano accompaniment, thanks to the secure and sensitive conducting of Rodolfo Fischer, who moves the work along effectively.What cannot be dispensed with is virtuoso singing, because each role is assigned one or more arias that test technique and style, not to mention the many ensembles that require nimble voices and quick wits. There's also ample opportunity for acting.

Fortunately, most of the singers come off well in these departments, as they garner invaluable experience tempered in the heat of one performance after another and cope with whatever exigencies may arise.

Western Opera Theatre travels with double casts of presumably equal strengths. Leading the cast on Monday night was Scott Hogsed as a dashing Don. He looks the part, conveys well the callousness, sexual appetite and cynicism of this unredeemed character, and sings most acceptably in an ample, pleasing bass-baritone. Don Gio-van-ni is one of those roles that offers a lifetime challenge to refine and perfect, but Hogsed shows promise.

As Donna Anna, Nicolle Foland displays a powerful lyric gift, singing with a rich, pointed mid-voice, and providing the extra reserve to go over the top with ringing high notes. Her florid technique is good, and legato in "Non mi dir" impressive. Lisa Ellsworth manages to endow Donna Elvira with dignity and keeps her on track, maintaining a certain lightness despite the many indignities showered upon her. This too is a good voice and technique.

Bojan Knezevic does well by the put-upon Leporello, though he could overstate the comedy a little more in some instances. Sari Gruber is a pert and pretty Zerlina, and Patrick Blackwell arrow-straight as Masetto. Jeffrey Picon sings a respectable Don Ottavio with sustained line in "Il Mio Tesoro," but there are some intonational and rhythmic difficulties elsewhere. Richard C. Woods tends to oversing as the Com-men-da-tore.

In general the versatile traveling scenery takes well to a small space such as the Egyptian. Stage direction strikes a happy medium between pointing morals and maintaining the light touch, and the singers throw themselves in with a will. One gauche bit of business should be reconsidered - the display of intimate undies during Leporello's Catalog aria; it's crude and gratuitous.

Utah will enjoy a week of WOT's aggregation of promising young singers, with performances in four places, as shown above.

- "AIDA, a Feast for the Ears - a Vocal and Dramatic Spectacle" is the subject of an opera preview lecture, sponsored by Utah Opera Guild, Wednesday evening at 7:30 in the Jewett Center at Westminster College. Admission is free.

Murray Lopdell Lawrence will be guest speaker. A singer and former company manager of San Francisco Opera's Western Opera Theater, he now heads the English department and library at St. Thomas Choir School in New York City.

The lecture is in preparation for performances of "Aida," at the Capitol Theatre Oct. 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16.