Edmonton Opera drives home themes of accountability with their season closer of Mozart’s Don Giovanni
He’s a shapeshifter, a chameleon, and he can adapt his personality to manipulate his next target with finesse and elegance. Don Giovanni may be what you know him as, but he was first known as Don Juan.
Mozart’s powerful opera Don Giovanni is returning to its Spanish roots to match those of its director Oriol Tomas. Inspired by the original play about Don Juan, El Burlador de Sevilla (The Libertine of Seville) written by 17th century priest Tirso de Molina, Tomas and conductor Christopher Larkin bring Edmonton Opera’s season closer to sizzling Seville.
Set design by Bretta Gerecke and costumes by Deanna Finnman draw from influences of bullfighting culture, early romanticism, and Spanish surrealism to paint a fresh picture of the notorious womanizer. The action is set within an imposing bullfighting arena with towering arches, a dream-like labyrinth, and a hallucinatory graveyard filled with the skulls of bulls, instead of tombs.
Molina’s grandiose and alluring character has intrigued great minds history-wide, including the likes of Jane Austen, E.T.A. Hoffmann (The Nutcracker and the Mouse King), Alexander Pushkin (Onegin), Richard Strauss, Victor Hugo (Les Miserables), Gaston Leroux (Phantom of the Opera), and even Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
“I wanted to give him the identity of the matador for two reasons,” Tomas says. “First, the matador has a great know-how, and he’s very precise. He knows how to attract his prey and also how to kill his prey. And I thought also because the bullfighting is a very controversial subject in Spain presently, so it is a double-edged sword.”
This is in fact Tomas’ third staging of Mozart’s masterpiece, his first being in France (2012), and his most recent in Quebec for the Opera Festival last summer. With an intriguing new coat of paint to tell the tale of the Spanish casanova in the light of today’s culture, the Edmonton Opera’s Don Giovanni will touch on some pressing societal issues.
At the time Molina wrote his play in inquisitorial Spain, noblemen lived without conscience or any moral sense of how their actions would affect those around them. As a way to warn them of their infernal fate, Molina wrote the character of Don Juan—a man that loses it all for the sake of his own ego and pleasure.
Tomas saw that this specific element of the tale rings very true today.
“It’s very interesting because presently with this subject—the assaults or the sexual harassment we can see in Hollywood and in other circles—even though Mozart and Da Ponte created it in the 18th century, I think it’s a very hot topic still,” he says.
Our current concepts of boundaries and respect are still blurred by people who feel they are outside the realms of law and ramifications, something that has carried on for 400 years at least, Molina tells us.
So where’s the hope?
This is where the whistleblowers come into Tomas’ production.
“At the very end we reverse the roles and Don Giovanni becomes the bull,” Tomas explains, adding that the women deliver their revenge in the end.
Don Giovanni is also such a unique piece because its roles are all principle characters, so the dimension must be there for all eight roles. When he works in France Tomas typically has six weeks to rehearse; with Canadian productions such as this, he has half that, but he adds that he enjoys the challenge.
When done properly, the antagonizing protagonist of Don Giovanni, played by star baritone Phillip Addis, is supported by a full cast of complex characters that truly have their own questionable motives as well.
Da Ponte’s dramma giocoso libretto smoothly trots along the drama with jokes and tidbits of humour brought with Don Giovanni’s sidekick Leporello (bass Erik Anstine) and the fiery Donna Elvira (soprano Cara McLeod), set on saving the lost lecher headed for a reckoning. The odd dash of pyrotechnics and architechtural collapse is also promised for opera goers: visualize the gates of hell operatically amplified.
Sat., Apr. 14 (8 pm), Tues., Apr. 17 (7:30 pm), & Fri., Apr. 20 (7:30 pm)
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium