The curtain goes up on Pittsburgh Opera’s 81st season beginning next Saturday evening, October 12, with the first of four performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The production will be a “film noir” styled take, directed by Kristine McIntyre. “Movie buffs will love the opera’s stylish film noir look,” according to the press release, “with Easter Eggs paying homage to classic noir movies such as Double Indemnity, The Third Man, Out of the Past, Kiss Me Deadly, and The Big Sleep, among others.”
First staged in Prague in 1787, the opera – originally entitled “Don Giovanni, or the Libertine Punished” – challenges modern day sensibilities, but this fact hardly makes it unique to its art form. Mozart’s music and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto, based on the legend of Don Juan, have enabled the opera buffa (the composer’s designation) or dramma giocoso (the librettist’s) to draw audiences for over 230 years, and in recent seasons it has remained firmly ensconced on the list of “top ten” most-performed operas worldwide
“Don Giovanni is an opera which seems to delight audiences, but strikes fear into the heart of any sensible director,” Ms. McIntyre has said in discussing the production we’ll soon see. “What can we do with a comedy that starts with murder and attempted rape? In what universe do we root for the bad guy because he’s pretty, because he’s the title character, because he almost gets away with murder? What other world is turned so upside down right from the start?” The film noir, of course, is her answer. “Film noir, born of the angst and unrest left behind by World War Il, and made in an atmosphere of fear and distrust and
uncertainty, with strong female characters who are just as rotten as the men in their lives, where there’s no such thing as innocence, and where the antihero knows he’s going to get it, but takes us along for the ride – here is a world in which Don Giovanni makes sense.
“Here’s a world in which Elvira becomes not the screaming harpy of late 18th century opera, but a true femme fatale – sexy, tough, uncompromisingly dressed to the nines, ready to give as good as she gets, and not willing to take no for an answer. Her only problem is that she loves Giovanni, and, in truth, they’re perfect for one another – if either of them lives long enough for it to happen. Beware the scorned woman, especially when she has a gun in her hand. Is Anna an innocent victim or a ‘femme in waiting?’ We’re not quite sure. Her future becomes caught up with Giovanni’s in ways that only she can imagine, and we know from the outset that poor Ottavio doesn’t have a chance. In ‘noir’ the young couple might survive, but their innocence is always the price. Haunted by the vision of her dead father in the street – the Commendatore, who now inhabits Giovanni’s dreams – we wonder if they can find their way through the tragedy and back to each other.
“And then there’s Zerlina, a testament to just how fast a girl can grow up in a Mozart opera. She goes straight from her wedding rehearsal to the casting couch, and Masetto never knows what hit him. In the end, she’s a survivor, and Masetto is, too – maybe theirs is the only real happy ending we’re going to get. Leporello, in a fedora and trench coat, always set with a wisecrack and a bit of truth – world-weary, amoral, but strangely loveable, we like him more than anybody else. We never doubt that he won’t get pulled down into Giovanni’s pit of mania and destruction. In the ‘noir’ city of long shadows and endless nights he’s there from the beginning and still there at the end, disappearing into the fog.
“And what of Giovanni? Dark and handsome, he pulls us into a world of manic energy and desire, and we can’t help but root for him, even as the forces of justice and darkness close is around him. He’s the classic ‘noir’ antihero, and when he’s gone the world is safe, for sure – but it’s so empty and so much less interesting. In the end the other characters try to put their lives back together and make sense of it all. But in ‘noir’ – and in Don Giovanni – it’s the questions that remain.”
Whatever style in which a production is designed or directed, the vocalists on the stage and the instrumentalists in the pit, of course, are what opera is all about, and Pittsburgh Opera’s orchestra has proved time and again to be a first class organization. Antony Walker will conduct the performances, and an impressive array of singers has been tapped for the cast. Baritone Craig Verm, familiar to Pittsburgh Opera patrons, will appear in the title role. Musa Ngqungwana, heard here in Moby-Dick, wil be Leporello, Don Giovanni’s more scrupulous servant and confidant, and Mozart’s music will offer him far greater opportunities to display his talents.
Soprano Rachelle Durkin will make her Pittsburgh Opera debut as Donna Anna, and Corrie Stallings, another familiar and enjoyable singer, will be Donna Elvira. Resident Artist Antonia Botti-Lodovico will be Zerlina, a role which frequently can steal the show. Tenor Kang Wang will be another newcomer, as Don Ottavio. Resident Artist Tyler Zimmerman will be Masetto, Zerlina’s fiancé, and Brian Kontes, another familiar singer, will be the Commendatore, Donna Anna’s “haunting” father.
So welcome to autumn and opera! For tickets, full production details and so much more, visit Pittsburgh Opera.
Cast Photos – David Bachman Photography for Pittsburgh Opera
A Pittsburgh native, George B. Parous began his studies of music and the ‘cello in grade school before his interests turned to opera, its performers and history while in his teens. He has been acknowledged as a contributor or editor of several published works (the first being “Rosa Raisa, A Biography of a Diva,” Northeastern University Press, 2001), and is currently working on his own biography of the German-American dramatic soprano, Johanna Gadski, who sang at the Metropolitan during the “Golden Age of Opera.” A retired IT Analyst, he is an avid genealogist, and has traced his maternal line to 8th century Wessex, England. He’s been a contributor to Pittsburgh in the Round since 2014.