UoT Opera’s fall production of Don Giovanni will open in three weeks time. Today, in Walter Hall we got a few hints on what we may be seeing plus some semi staged excerpts.
For director Marilyn Gronsdale one way into Don Giovanni (and she accepts that there are many) is to see it as being about how the actions of the powerful impact the lives of the many. In a sexual context it’s clearly of relevance to our times with a serial groper in the White House, a British cabinet minister out on his ear for sexual impropriety and one of Hollywood’s most powerful figures rapidly being cast into outer darkness. One technique to be used to emphasise this is a silent chorus of women who will witness/bear witness to the action. Maybe this is something like the Land Assembly in Peter Hinton’s take on Louis Riel? We also learned that the design aesthetic will be stylized 1940s film noir and that we may be in for a surprise with the ending.
Caryl Clark’s contribution on the history of the opera focussed on the social context and the issues with censorship as well as the issues around staging the piece with limited rehearsal and a very young cast (except for, curiously, the Zerlina). As we get really clever and perhaps overthink productions (an no work is more prone to this than Don Giovanni) it’s perhaps worth reflecting on how the early versions must, necessarily, have been rather rough and ready. One can read what you like to what means for the value of the “composer’s original intentions”.
Uri Mayer, who will conduct, chipped in with a few comments on the challenges of getting the piece together with an orchestra none of whose members had ever performed the music. He also made a point about the conductor being on board with the director’s production concept. I think this is an often overlooked issue. I think of the great, if scarcely conventional theatre that can happen when director and conductor are on the same page. Harnoncourt and Guth in Mozart. Debus and Alden in Johan Strauss. And the opposite. James Levine with any production not actually out of the ark or Herbert Karajan with anything not personally tailored to his ego.
What did we learn from the sung extracts? I’m not sure, but I have a few ideas. The Don is going to be physical and threatening. That’s certainly how his attitude to Donna Elvira in the Act 1 quartet appeared. Elvira is going to be towards the overwrought end of the spectrum. Hopefully not so batshit that it gets in the way of the music. If today’s Batti, batti is anything to go by, Zerlina thinks Masetto is a basically a big girl’s blouse. If I put all this together I suspect we will see what might be called a “feminist” reading with strong female characters and a physically unpleasant Don but with the other male characters somewhat ineffectual. But there are still three weeks before opening night so things could change and I could be completely wrong anyway.
So an interesting way to spend a lunch hour with much to think about. Credit to Sandra Horst for organising it, the speakers and the many singers and pianists of the UoT Opera Program who contributed.
UoT’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni will play at the MacMillan Theatre with four performances from November 23rd to 26th. As is usual at UoT there will be two alternating casts.
Photo credits: Me – you can tell.