For lovers of opera, or for those who’ve never been to an operatic performance before, Oz Opera presents Don Giovanni at the Glasshouse. But it’s the Don as you’ve never seen him before …
– Opera Adaption and Director
How did you become involved with Oz Opera’s production of Don Giovanni?
I was asked by the director of Opera Australia if I would be interested in doing a production for Oz Opera. There was interest in doing Don Giovanni … but making the actual production on stage fit that feel of being a smaller version of the opera. Don Giovanni was adapted and cut down.
Then we looked at all the English versions of the opera, and I was asked to write, being a playwright, the libretto – the English version of the script as well.
Don Giovanni is a great piece of work by one of the music world’s finest – Mozart. Why do you think that something that was written so long ago still remains relevant to modern audiences?
That’s, I suppose, the mark of a great piece of art or literature – you don’t have to do that much to it. It’s a great piece about men and women. The cast and I have been talking about this in rehearsals – it’s an amazing show about how women cope with men, and how men are kind of these strange beings that are either incredibly kind of flashy on the outside but empty on the inside, or hard to get to know if they’ve got more to them. So all of the men in the show are either absolute bast**ds, or uptight and committed to old fashioned virtues of honour and being virtuous. The women are kind of either going crazy with anger, or being dumped, or sick of being pursued …
We decided to set the show in the period when for women getting married was still the only option and where there was a degree of glamour and larger than life feel, and in the end we moved it to Spain − because it’s an Italian opera, really. We set it in the ’50s, so the women all wear fantastic dresses, and then men wear great suits and jackets.
We haven’t left that much out. One of the things I did do was restructure the opera so that it all happens in one place in this little town square, instead of all the different scenes, so you don’t have to constantly change. In this town square all these people come looking for Don Giovanni, trying to either get him back, get rid of him, or punish him in some way. They’re all larger than life and have this great flair to them, so it is colourful and passionate.
Without giving too much away about the story, does Don Giovanni still get his just desserts in the end?
He does … in a different way than the standard way; but yes − he certainly comes to a fairly unpleasant end. And it’s a lesson to all men!
– Masetto and the Commendatore
You play two roles in Don Giovanni. Tell us about the characters you portray …
Masetto is a young country guy who’s married to Zerlina, and he’s basically an innocent pawn in the game. Don Giovanni tries to hit on Zerlina on her wedding day – Masetto has a role in the show where he more or less gets done over by Don Giovanni. He’s not very sophisticated, and his relationship with Zerlina reflects this – she’s able to manipulate him quite easily. Masetto is traditionally sung by a baritone.
The other role I play – the Commendatore, is the father of one of the other characters. He’s a very strong-willed character. Traditionally in opera, the Commendatore has a different type of voice as well – he’s usually a bass and needs a very strong voice. He is very commanding; it’s quite difficult to sing the role of the Commendatore.
How challenging has playing these two roles been for you as a performer?
It’s challenging in the sense that both characters are very different. The Commendatore is an older man, and Masetto is younger, and it’s challenging to do the contrast between the two characters …
How do you find audiences generally respond to the rather unique productions Oz Opera stages – I hear Don Giovanni has recently been to Canberra and was very well received by audiences there …
Don Giovanni is one of those operas that most people have heard of – like Madam Butterfly. People who’ve come along and seen Don Giovanni before a million times have loved this production. There were also people in Canberra who’d never been to an opera before, and they also absolutely loved the show.
I’ve been to places like Tennant Creek with other productions, and audiences there have never seen an opera, and we’ve been received really well there too.
– Don Giovanni
How much fun have you had playing the man that everyone loves to hate?
To me, I would say he’s the ultimate character. He can fit any context, any era, in terms of time. He can be so many different things … it’s a really interesting journey for me, because the first time I did Don Giovanni [a full opera performance in the original Italian with the Victorian Opera] I was pretty young.
There were so many different factors in putting him together, in trying to sing the role and survive in the role, that I could only play him in one way – in the way I was able to at that age. But now a few years on, I’m not worried about the music and not worried about surviving the experience, if you will. I can’t tell you what a wonderful experience it is – I could happily sing this and nothing else for the rest of my life!
Considering this opera has been rewritten and is set in the 1950s for this production, how well do you think that’s worked in terms of the action?
I think it works perfectly. It doesn’t matter what era you play it … the themes are just as relevant – even more relevant now, in an age of probably greater promiscuity and sexual freedom. I think it works in any context. The interesting thing about it … there’s a thousand ways you could play this. I think it would be amazing to do Don Giovanni in the theme of the book and movie American Psycho, for example.
You can see productions on YouTube where the whole thing is set in the 1990s – it’s universal. I don’t think the setting changes the way the characters move or interact – fundamentally, it’s the same.
How have you felt about the tour and the production so far?
The feedback has been really positive, and I think we all are impressed with Michael Gow and Robert Kemp’s direction and design. It is perfect in terms of making a show work as a single set. The costumes, which are striking, are practical and relevant for the era – to me it’s almost a play, instead of an opera or a drama.
Thanks everyone. Interviews by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 81 of the Greater Port Macquarie Focus