Opera as Idea and Performance: Class 2

2nd week of spring quarter is finished – and with that comes another post about the opera class I am taking at the Law School (where President Obama visited just yesterday – right next to my dorm!!). This week’s class focused on Mozart’s Don Giovanni and featured special guest Robert Falls, director of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. Falls was actually the stage director for Lyric’s 60th season opening production of Don Giovanni in the autumn of 2014. Anthony Freud, General Director of Lyric Opera, actually told us that it’s the tradition of Lyric to stage a production of Don Giovanni every decade – for the 50th anniversary, the production (cast led by Bryn Terfel) was staged by famed German director, Peter Stein, and conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Anyways, Falls took us through his process and approach to creating a production that was fresh for the audience (indeed, the production received many good reviews), but not too fresh in that it becomes too extreme/radical, of which Freud showed two examples. It does come down to a very complex balancing act that Freud mentioned is a key component of his job as General Director: how does one facilitate bringing something new to the Chicago audience while maintaining the original intentions of the composer, and simultaneously considering the demands of the older and more conservative donors with the mission of trying to attract younger and newer audience members. And then, having to work with the stage director and the conductor to help bring the production to life, with financial considerations in mind – it’s pretty mind-boggling once you take all these various factors into account, which makes it really fascinating to hear from Freud each week. Luckily, he does have time in his busy schedule to go to performances – I saw him last night at Symphony Center to hear Muti conduct Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet and we talked briefly before he went backstage to, I assume, greet Maestro Muti after the performance. I wonder if maybe he’s trying to get Muti to conduct at Lyric, which would be incredible if that happened, but I doubt it will – Muti has said before that if he has more time in Chicago, he’ll devote it to CSO…but hey, one can dream right?

Anyways, Professor Nussbaum went over the various philosophical themes and musical aspects of Don Giovanni, which included how the D-minor opening of the overture illustrated the “repudiation of convention,” divine vengeance at the end of Don Giovanni relating to Mozart’s conception of cosmology in Die Zauberflöte, and the idea of humansim as Mozart’s religion, which is most clearly demonstrated in the journeys of the three women in the opera. She also analyzed certain characters, such as how Donna Anna is seemingly the most complex character in the opera whereas Donna Elvira is the hero of the opera. And there was a mini-debate on Carol Vaness vs. Renée Fleming/Kiri te Kanawa in terms of whose voice better matched the roles/specific moments in the opera.

Falls also showed us how he approached the final moments of the opera in which Don Giovanni is sent to hell. He wanted to create a very cold and icy environment, which was elevated by the use of blue and white light, and a massive contraption they used to slide Mariusz Kwiecien, who played Don Giovanni, two stories underground Lyric – an incredible technical feat! Very cool to listen about the stage production/directorial side of opera. Plus, at the end of class (with the help of Anthony), I finally got to give away all of the Lyric Opera season sampler CDs to everyone, including to Professor Nussbaum and Robert Falls – which was great to do as a Lyric Opera University Ambassador!

Next week’s class is on Puccini’s Madama Butterfly – there is no Muti-led performance of Butterfly, as Muti has said that he is never going to conduct this opera, for various reasons. In that case, I have a pretty good 2009 recording with tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Pinkerton and soprano Angela Gheorghiu as Cio-Cio san, who are actually together doing rehearsals right now for Tosca at the Vienna State Opera. Special guest, soprano Ana Maria Martinez who just finished doing Butterfly in LA, will be visiting us for the next class – can’t wait!



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