Seduction ... and retribution: 'Don Giovanni' demonstrates that these are not new themes
Bad-boy fascination is not a recent development.
Long before Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote his opera “Don Giovanni” in 1787, the charming and amoral hedonist (also known as Don Juan) had been presented many times in literature and in the theater.
Mozart's opera juxtaposes tragic and comic elements in bringing Don Giovanni to life on stage. For many opera enthusiasts and commentators, it is his greatest opera.
“It's all about the relationship with the audience, for them to immediately feel drawn to the opera because they are drawn to the characters,” says baritone Michael Todd Simpson, who will star in a new production created by Pittsburgh Opera.
Pittsburgh Opera will present four performances of “Don Giovanni” conducted by music director Antony Walker, starting Saturday and running through Nov. 11 at the Benedum Center, Downtown.
The cast includes Simpson as Don Giovanni; Wayne Tigges as Leporello, Don Giovanni's servant; Caitlin Lynch as Donna Anna; Hao Jiang Tian as her father, the Commendatore; Sean Panikkar as Don Ottavio, her fiancé; Jennifer Holloway as Donna Elvira, one of Don Giovanni's former lovers; Sari Gruber as Zerlin; and Joseph Barron as Masetto.
The opera begins with Donna Anna rushing out of her home, struggling to get away from Don Giovanni, who is forcing himself on her. Her father comes to her aid, but is killed by Don Giovanni. The rest of the opera presents Don Giovanni's incessant attempts at new conquests and escapes from those seeking justice. At the end of the opera, a stone statue of the Commendatore come to life and is invited by Don Giovanni to dinner. He will not repent even with his hand in the Stone Guest's icy grip of death.
Pittsburgh Opera's new production is by stage director Justin Wray, who designed the set and will use pre-existing costumes.
Wray is staging “Don Giovanni” for the first time, working his way through Mozart's operas with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. The others are “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Cosi fan tutte.” He's previously worked with Walker on four baroque operas.
As a director today, Wray says, “You have to decide where you want (the opera) to be and decide the rules of the culture you're in. The libretto is a hybrid: an Italian — Venetian — libretto written for Czech and Viennese audiences set in a country (Spain), which neither the composer nor librettist had visited. As a director, you could throw all that out the window and set it down the road today.”
Wray decided to stay with Mozart and Da Ponte's choice of a Spanish locale, picking Seville in particular.
“What is it about Seville and the operatic consciousness that so many take place there,” he asks – mentioning “The Barber of Seville,” “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Carmen.” “Having gone there recently, I had a light-bulb moment. We were in a culture still in Europe, but on the edge — superstitious, hyper-religious and not embracing the scientific and philosophic. This was the world that was refusing to modernize.
“Don Giovanni, the Casanova libertine archetype, doesn't believe in God. He's an extreme version of the new direction, who does not care about the rest of society because he doesn't believe in any higher form to control or regulate him,” says Wray. “He's a very-dangerous-ideas character bringing the society around him to its knees because it has no way of dealing with him.”
And, in the opera, it is the supernatural in the figure of the Stone Guest, not society, which brings Don Giovanni to justice.
Rehearsals have been going particularly well, according to the artists, not that “Don Giovanni” is an easy opera to stage.
“I'm enjoying (rehearsals) very much,” says Simpson. “Our conversations in rehearsal have been really interesting. (Wray) has so many ideas, it helps fill in the gaps — what the relationships are and where they came from. … What an audience should expect is any stereotypes they might have as far as opera goes are going to be wiped out. This is a really young cast full of spit and vigor. It is a fiery group.”
Walker is thrilled to be conducting “Don Giovanni” again. He's particularly keen to use his experience conducting earlier operas by Mozart to see him “growing up” in this masterpiece.
“I love listening to what my singers are offering me. Often, when I'm taking the first music rehearsals with singers there are certain things I know I'm going to ask for in interpretation, things I feel strongly about,” he says.
“But I try to not ask too much change at the first rehearsal, because I want to hear their interpretation within the parameters of my tempo, and with my gestures. I like to watch and listen to how he directs the singers and how they form a relationship. Then I like to put the icing on the cake. Perhaps we should take a little more time here. Maybe this tempo isn't for you. There is time for our interpretation to grow,” he adds.
Walker speaks of the Prague and Vienna versions of the opera, the one heard at the premiere and the changes the composer made to the score for its Vienna premiere in 1788. He jokes that he and Wray have created a version here that takes elements from each of Mozart's two.
“It's ironic. I like to be the composer's advocate,” Walker says. “When Mozart and Da Ponte created these two versions, there is no absolute evidence as to which Mozart really preferred. I like to think he was very open to having it dramatic streamlined.”
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Woman dies after bleeding on sidewalk outside Carrick pizzeria
- Former Pirates pitcher Happ agrees to $36 million, 3-year deal with Blue Jays
- Unsung backups provide boost for Steelers defensive line
- Penguins lose hard-fought game to Blue Jackets in overtime
- Nuclear crossroad: California reactors face uncertain future
- Starkey: Flashback Friday for Pitt
- Puppy, pals come to rescue of Lower Burrell firefighters
- Body found in Allegheny River in Harrison
- Unabashed church pastors put politics front and center
- Republicans roll dice as Trump headlines Pennsylvania Society event
- Gilbert, son of ex-Pitt football standout, commits to Panthers