Magazine article Opera Canada

Calgary Opera

Magazine article Opera Canada

Calgary Opera

Article excerpt

Over the past several years, Calgary Opera has not only presented an impressive number of new, modern operas but has also begun to offer unconventional productions of operas from the standard repertoire. This was certainly the case with the season-closing production of Mozart's Don Giovanni (Apr. 24-30).


As conceived and usually played, Don Giovanni is a picaresque story of a man consumed by an insatiable appetite for women and who, for his many transgressions, ultimately receives his just desserts and is taken down to Hell. In short, it is a morality tale with a dash of the supernatural.

But time passes, and with it, perhaps, the sense of relevance of such a story for modern audiences. This, at least, was the premise behind Calgary's new production of this well-worn masterpiece. To bring the story into the sensibility of the modern era and to make vivid the fundamental issues of the opera, stage director Glynis Leyshon set the production in an office tower in a large, modern city dominated by the spirit of commerce, where the conflicts that make up big business serve as an allegory for the original story.

In this version, Don Giovanni is not a Spanish nobleman but a corporate rainmaker, whose rise to the upper echelons of a large company encouraged a spirit of reckless speculation and hubris--that expresses itself in the unrestrained pursuit of wine, women and song. Leporello is Don Giovanni's personal assistant, and Donna Anna and Donna Elvira are career women in the company--strong-minded and ambitious, but with personal agendas as well. Zerlina and Masetto are part of the cleaning staff. It all made for a striking new mix of characters.

One of the challenges of such an updating is the inevitable conflict between the original text of the opera and its related musical style with the imagistic values of the present. In this production, along with the potential gain in contemporary vividness came also the blunting of the inherent contrast between the aristocrats and the non-nobles. The production never quite overcame the challenge, especially in the portrayal of Don Giovanni, whose dramatic centre never quite emerged. While Mozart contrasts Giovanni's music with that of Leporello, here the two characters seemed oddly alike: the fundamental status of Don Giovanni as inherently higher was difficult to grasp, and with it the palpable sense of the Don's authority as aristocratic, a central point in the story. …

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