Wrong doer gets done unto

Don Giovanni gets a modern makeover that remains true

Spurred by her decades as an artistic director and a reputation for innovating new theatrical works stage director Glynis Leyshon is taking a radical approach to Mozart’s Don Giovanni by going back to the basics of text and score.

“I think when you see a really great production it is not reinforcing everything you believe you want to see” she says “but rather taking you into the story and exploring that story in a way that is new and fresh and deeply meaningful to you even if sometimes that is more uncomfortable.”

Leyshon believes opera and theatre lovers want and deserve artists who have invested their acting and musical talents to engage the audience creating a thrilling and connected evening. It’s an investment she sees in baritone Brett Polegato who assumes the titular role in the upcoming Calgary Opera production.

“[Polegato] is prepared to show a man spiralling out of control. And I find that thrilling” says Leyshon. “It’s not just a one-dimensional Lothario or Casanova; he’s a complex complicated man in a psychosis fuelled by guilt drugs and alcohol at the death of the Commendatore [played by Valarian Ruminski].”

While emphasizing that the original opera is an enduring piece Leyshon feels that her production will offer a sharp edge in comparison to the well-made feeling of other Mozart operas. And not just because it centres on a charming hedonistic soul hell-bent on self-destruction.

A few European companies have produced versions as current as the 1940s one of which impressed Bob McPhee head of Calgary Opera. He observed that current versions of characters in this opera work in the glass towers of Calgary. Rather than replicate other productions he asked Leyshon to direct a present-day production.

Opera singers come to the first rehearsal off-book knowing their music and characters so it was essential that the creative team work through the concept well in advance and send off the new biographies and treatment to the singers. Leyshon has previously worked with several of the singers and welcomed them as collaborators.

The production is stripped of all supernatural elements and abstract interpretation. Bretta Gerecke’s set design clearly depicts an office tower and atrium allowing a smooth flow between scenes. Instead of villagers as background players in this production office cleaners celebrate an engagement while Giovanni tries to placate or elude a PR specialist he loved and left in the past.

The only significant change made because of the contemporized period is that the women wronged by Giovanni devise and implement a revenge plot. And rather than an apparition the actual body of the Commendatore is brought in to accelerate Giovanni’s descent into madness.

“The creative impulse always comes essentially from the music and the text and the exploration comes from that and through the interpretative skills of a very fine ensemble” says Leyshon. “I don’t think it’s my job to impose but to refine.”

Along with the madness and mayhem comes moving music and loyal lovers and kinder hearts.

The new synopsis of Don Giovanni is on Calgary Opera’s website ( calgaryopera.com ) and is worth checking out before attending a performance of this revised version. While originally written when the church knew all and ruled every nook and cranny of one’s life Don Giovanni’s obdurate rejection of salvation and insistence that he is master of his own fate speaks to the modern prevalence of atheism individualism and entitlement.