Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Don Giovanni' Reigns Supreme in World of Opera

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Don Giovanni' Reigns Supreme in World of Opera

Article excerpt

"You can chew it. It's not fluff." That's one of the ways baritone Michael Todd Simpson describes Mozart's "Don Giovanni." The 34-year-old North Carolina native will play the libertine in the upcoming Pittsburgh Opera production.

"Don Giovanni" was special from the time of its premiere in Prague in 1787. Although superficially an opera buffa (Italian- style comic opera), "Don Giovanni" balanced comic and tragic elements in equal proportions, leaving experts to argue for more than two centuries over which dominates. Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, called it a drama giocoso (playful drama). They also gave it the subtitle, "Il dissoluto punito (the dissolute punished)" and the opera ends with its antihero going down to Hell in flames. That is classic tragedy, but it is immediately followed by a comic epilogue in which the remaining characters pronounce the moral: "This is how a bad person comes to an end." Even the opera's creators were ambivalent, however. A year later, when the opera was produced in Vienna, they cut the epilogue.

"Don Giovanni" is generally considered the greatest opera ever written (Kierkegaard called it the world's greatest work of art). Its stature is due in part because it is many things to many people: a universal story about the world's greatest lover (or a sexual predator, depending on your point of view) overlaid with Christian morality. "There are so many layers and levels," Mr. Simpson says. "Don Giovanni is beautiful on the outside, not the other way around. He'd be a wonderful president," the singer adds. "He knows what to say in any situation. He'd win every debate!"

This opera is a great drama told in great music, with the combination adding up to something more than either would be on its own. Mozart gives each character a distinct and individual musical language. …

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