How satisfying it would have been to report that Opera San Jose's new production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" is a sparkling success. It marks the end of an era: the company's final production before its founder, Irene Dalis, retires as general director, turning over the reins next fall to Larry Hancock, who must lead the way into the post-Dalis future.

But the production, which opened Saturday at the California Theatre, is a static one, with few charms and all too little terror as it tells the story of the original Sex Machine, Don Giovanni. Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto (re-spinning the Don Juan tale) is juicy: sex, parties and death, with Don Giovanni paying for his crimes at the end as he's dragged down to hell. The opera boasts many of Mozart's loveliest arias and stormiest sextets and septets, as well as an unmatched variety of colors in the orchestra, elegantly conducted here by George Cleve.

Baritone Zachary Altman as Don Giovanni and soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez as Donna Anna in Mozart’s "Don Giovanni" at Opera San Jose. Pat
Baritone Zachary Altman as Don Giovanni and soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez as Donna Anna in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" at Opera San Jose. Pat Kirk/Opera San Jose. (Pat Kirk/Opera San Jose)

But stage director Daniel J. Witzke, making his company debut, presides over an old-school production -- a lot of standing and singing. They used to call this "park and bark." There's not much sizzle, playfulness or momentum in the three-hour show, because the ensemble element is largely missing. The members of the cast -- even the various sets of lovers -- are psychologically disconnected, standing with arms crossed and brows furrowed, too often acting one at a time: "Now it's my turn, and, oh, now it's your turn."

Much of this might have been forgotten had Saturday's singing been stronger, but the opening night cast -- the first of two, performing in rotation -- sang with mixed results. The production was in dire need of at least one charismatic performer to lift up the proceedings and spur the show onward. No such hero emerged.

As Don Giovanni, baritone Zachary Altman was more effective playing the unctuous lover -- with shirt unbuttoned, John Travolta-style -- than the ruthless nihilist and killer. His voice was round and supple, but also bland and muffled. He didn't project, didn't cut through the orchestra, and was almost inaudible when singing from the back of the stage.

Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu as Leporello and baritone Zachary Altman as Don Giovanni in Mozart’s "Don Giovanni" at Opera San Jose. Pat
Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu as Leporello and baritone Zachary Altman as Don Giovanni in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" at Opera San Jose. Pat Kirk/Opera San Jose. ( Pat Kirk/Opera San Jose )

As Donna Elvira, the noblewoman unhinged by Giovanni's betrayals, mezzo-soprano Nicole Birkland sang as if she'd mistaken Mozart for Wagner. Her dark and massive voice -- far better utilized in past productions -- over-ran the other singers in Mozart's delicate ensemble pieces. Her decorative runs were imprecise.

The night's most consistent singing came from mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich as Zerlina, the country maiden whose wedding party is hijacked by Don Giovanni. She was fresh-voiced and sweetly limber in such lyric numbers as "Batti batti" and "Vedrai, carino."

Mezzo-soprano Nicole Birkland as Donna Elvira in Opera San Jose’s production of "Don Giovanni" by Mozart. Pat Kirk/Opera San Jose.
Mezzo-soprano Nicole Birkland as Donna Elvira in Opera San Jose's production of "Don Giovanni" by Mozart. Pat Kirk/Opera San Jose. ( Pat Kirk/Opera San Jose )

The night's most beautiful singing came from soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Donna Anna, whose father, the Commendatore, is murdered by the Don. Her "Non mi dir" was elegant and plush-toned; López's voice has many layers and colors. But her performance was less consistent than usual, especially in the first act, when a rough graininess repeatedly appeared in her low register.

As Leporello, Don Giovanni's servant and sidekick, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu displayed a sturdy and resonant voice, while bringing some solid comic moments to the production. Bass Silas Elash didn't summon the terror-tones required as the Commendatore, who returns from the dead to bring down Don Giovanni.

The orchestra was spry and on the money, with great wind and brass work, and a marvelous cello accompaniment to "Batti, batti." Annie Smart's stage sets -- warm blues for the palatial interiors; sandy fresco tones for the Seville street scenes -- are simple and attractive.

The production runs through May 4. In September, Hancock (Dalis' right-hand man from the beginning) takes over as general director to guide the company into its 31st season.

In the meantime, get your tickets for the Eight Annual Irene Dalis Vocal Competition on May 10 at the California, where 10 finalists will compete for $50,000 in prize money. It's one more opportunity to pay tribute to this grande dame of opera in the South Bay; she makes the music happen.

Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/richardscheinin.

'Don Giovanni'

Presented by Opera San Jose and conducted by George Cleve; music
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte

When: Through May 4
Where: California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose
Tickets: $51-$111, $11 students with ID (ages 24 and under); 408-437-4450, www.operasj.org