'Don Giovanni' comes together despite setbacks

Posted: Thursday, March 16, 2006

Based on the legend of Don Juan and written by the Viennese composer Wolf-gang Amadeus Mozart, "Don Giovanni" is considered one of the greatest operas ever written. The cast in Opera to GO!'s upcoming presentation includes eight soloists and 16 chorus members. William Todd Hunt is conducting the 20-piece orchestra, a conglomeration of ensembles and players from all over town.

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Aaron Elmore, known mostly for his Shakespearean roles with Perseverance Theatre and his own Theatre in the Rough, stars as Don Giovanni in his first full opera.

"It functions more like a play than many other operas," Opera to GO! founder Joyce Parry Moore said. "People that aren't accustomed to opera but are used to theater will find that the dramatic line continues through each of the acts. It also has a very diverse number of styles contained with it: commedia, melodrama, drama, horror and romance as well."

The production has come together despite enormous setbacks.

Original director Elkhanah Pulitzer cast the play and helped with the design, but had to leave due to a family illness. She was replaced by Dyana Kimball, a Columbia University graduate, who joined the production a month before rehearsals began.

Parry Moore was diagnosed with breast cancer and went into the hospital for a lumpectomy the day before Kimball arrived. The surgery was performed by Dr. David Miller, who plays Leporello, Giovanni's servant. Parry Moore will begin chemotherapy after the play's run.

On Sunday, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and McPhetres Hall were destroyed by fire. Parry Moore and Aaron Elmore were both parishioners at the church, and the hall has hosted many Opera to GO! and Theatre in the Rough productions. Theatre in the Rough lost almost all of the costumes and set pieces that are not being used in "Don Giovanni."

"The fact that this show is happening is kind of a miracle really," Parry Moore said. "We're all really grateful."

"Don Giovanni" is based on the centuries-old myth of Don Juan, first documented by the Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina in "The Playboy of Seville and Guest of Stone" sometime in the early 1600s.

Giovanni is a legendary seducer of women and his need for conquest consumes him. At the beginning of Act I, he attempted to seduce the noblewoman Donna Anna (Cyndee Sugar) away from her fiancé, Don Ottavio (Brett Crawford). In the process, Giovanni kills her father, the Commendatore (Phil Schempf).

Giovanni embarks on a series of party-hopping with his servant, Leporello, while trying to avoid a former lover, Elvira (Parry Moore). They end up at a wedding, where Giovanni attempts to steal Zerlina (Rebecca Grimes) from Masetto (Travis Vidic). After a series of misadventures, Giovanni ends up at a graveyard. A statue of the Commendatore announces that it will find its vengeance. Unfazed, Giovanni invites it to dinner. The statue shows up and demands that Giovanni repent for his sins.

The opera is sometimes performed with an epilogue, wherein the chorus sings, "The death of a sinner always reflects their life." Opera to GO! has cut that ending.

"It was with the intention of taking the moralizing out of it and allowing the audience to decide for themselves about who this guy is, what he deserves and how right or wrong he is," Kimball said. "As an audience member, I'm not interested in being told how to think or what to feel. I try to create theater that doesn't put a nice bow on everything."

what: "don giovanni," presented by opera to go!

when: preview at 7:30 p.m. thursday, march 16; runs at 8 p.m. fridays and saturdays, march 17-18 and 24-25.

where: juneau-douglas high school auditorium

tickets: $22 for adults; $17 for students and seniors. available at hearthside books and at the door

Kimball's background is almost entirely in theater. This is the first time she has directed an opera. A freelance director who works mostly with companies in Boston and New York, she's a friend and colleague of Pulitzer's. She had little trouble stepping into the role on late notice. Kimball also knew set designer Art Rotch, while he was studying at New York University.

"The biggest challenge in going from directing theater to directing opera is just the difference in time," Kimball said. "I have no control over how long things take to accomplish, say or get done. In opera, it's all done for you."

"The other really challenging thing is that the singers have to be able to get enough breath, and get enough grounding in order to get the notes out," she said. "Some of my initial staging ideas, coming from a theatrical background, have needed to accommodate singing."

Elmore is realizing a lifelong dream by starring in his first full opera. His parents moved to Santa Rosa, Calif., 60 miles from San Francisco, when he was young. His father often talked about his wish to join an opera as a chorus member.

"Years have gone by, and my artistic life on stage has moved well past those early fantasies, but I'd never pursued a chance to get serious about doing an opera," Elmore said. "This opportunity came along, and I couldn't say no."

Elmore, a baritone, has been working with Parry Moore for 18 months. Giovanni's buffoonery is somewhat similar to the Shakespearean characters that he's played for years.

"I definitely feel like there's similarities between this guy and Richard III," Elmore said. "He's a guy you can't stand, but you can't stop watching."

Spanish professor Rick Bellagh has translated parts of the score into Spanish to lend the opera some of the original flavor of Don Juan.

"I'd be willing to wager that if Mozart was able to, he would've written it in Spanish," Parry Moore said.

Designer Rotch, a New York University graduate, has created a set that

relies on layers of curtains to keep up with the rapid changes in the story.

"It's sometimes called un-stageable because the scenes go from indoors to

outdoors to indoors to outdoors, and there's no time allowed. Mozart wasn't

very helpful in writing 30 seconds or a minute-long section of music without

words, so just have to figure out a way to do (the changes) in a bar."

"The other part is what do you for a modern audience?" he said. "How do

you convince them that Hell is real? There's really a choice that Don

Giovanni is making, and how can you represent that in a way that has some

kind of meaning at the end."

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