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Mozart’s Don Giovanni a Wild Ride

CFA stages a tale of sex and revenge, with a score to die for

During the summer months, BU Today is revisiting some of our favorites stories from the past year. This week, we feature a series of stories on the arts—in the classroom, on the stage, and in the gallery.

Mozart’s Don Giovanni is a wild ride fueled by sex, love, self-delusion, and revenge—set to one of the most achingly gorgeous scores in opera. Opera veteran Daniel Pelzig has taken a fresh visual approach to Giovanni, a timeless tale dominated by a gleeful narcissist whose pathology would mesh easily with today’s culture. He has set this College of Fine Arts production in contemporary urban Seville instead of the picturesque 17th-century Spanish town of the libretto.

The classic Mozart opera runs tonight through Sunday at the BU Theatre under the musical direction of William Lumpkin, artistic director of CFA’s Opera Institute. The production features alternating casts, modern dress, and English supertitles.

Based on the many legends of Don Juan, a recurring fictional character whose name is synonymous with rakish seducers and libertines, Don Giovanni, which debuted in Prague in 1787, is one of the world’s most performed operas. “It’s a parable, but it’s really about sexual violence, submission, and the complexity of relationships,” says Pelzig, stage director of last spring’s lesser-known Mozart work La Clemenza di Tito. Don Giovanni asks “when is love not love?” says the dancer, choreographer, director, and guest faculty member of the Juilliard School. He has directed new productions of Carmen for Central City Opera, The Bartered Bride for the now-defunct Opera Boston, as well as Tosca and Turandot for the Forth Worth Opera.

Strommer's Don Giovanni regales party guests in the lusty Mozart opera. Photo by Danny Kim

Lumpkin describes the lush score, in particular its use of brass, as “visceral to what’s happening on stage,” from a spirited duel to the coming alive of a fearsome statue. Tinged with the supernatural and with comic moments reflecting Mozart’s playfulness, the opera begins with a scuffle following Don Juan’s unwanted advances toward the daughter of a Commendatore and spills into a succession of his obsessive, shameless attempts at further seductions as his enemies seek revenge.

Don Giovanni “is charming, he is fearless, and he’s defiant to the end,” says Pelzig. The role will be sung on alternate nights by baritones Isaac Bray (CFA’14) and Nickoli Strommer (CFA’14), both set to graduate next month from the Opera Institute. Strommer says that his character “takes pleasure in the chase. He doesn’t believe that anything he does is wrong.” For soprano Ruby White (CFA’14), singing the role of Zerlina, the peasant Masetto’s fiancée being wooed by Giovanni, brings her full circle—it was her very first opera role. White loves singing Mozart because his music “offers so many clues to the emotional state of the character.” The opera has long been her favorite. “It’s so perfect dramatically,” she says. “It’s not a piece that’s out of place. It gets better with time.” Bass-baritone Erik Van Heyningen (CFA’15), who sings the part of Masetto, describes Mozart’s score as “the rock music of opera.”

Strommer (from left), Erik Van Heyningen (CFA'15), and Jorgeandrés Camargo (CFA'14) in CFA’s 2014 spring opera production. Photo by Danny Kim

And there may be a touch of the rock star in this incarnation. Even for those who have seen the opera many times, there will be surprises. Pelzig isn’t revealing too much about the special effects, except for those involving hair: “You may see a mohawk.”

This story was originally published on April 17, 2014.

5 Comments
Susan Seligson, Senior Writer for BU Today and Bostonia
Susan Seligson

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

5 Comments on Mozart’s Don Giovanni a Wild Ride

  • SR on 04.17.2014 at 7:37 am

    Helpful hint: the closest MBTA stops are Massachusetts Ave (orange line) and Hynes Convention Center or Symphony (green line) for easy theatre access. If it’s possible to amend the article, I would do so to avoid misinforming potential opera goers. It also may be worth mentioning that the BU Shuttle stops at the intersection of Mass Ave and Huntington!

  • Angela Carlson on 04.17.2014 at 3:14 pm

    Great show! Good for you, Nickoli!!

  • Stephen Ray on 04.17.2014 at 3:19 pm

    Nice appetizer!

  • WHB on 04.18.2014 at 10:56 am

    Seeing it tonight—my first opera! Can’t wait.

  • Amedeo Vetere on 04.20.2014 at 10:54 am

    I’m a lover of Don Giovanni and whenever I can I attend the show. I have seen many time the opera at the Met and I have to say that the performance of the BU was amazing. The singers were wonderful with perfect scenic presence. The theater is cozy with a great acoustic. I loved evething and I’m looking forward for new productions!!

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