The Musical Arts Center will open its fall opera season with the latest production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” The opera follows its namesake, who is a man that revels in every form of debauchery and sets a dark path to his own destruction.
The opera is directed by Jacobs School of Music faculty Michael Shell, Resident Stage Director, who welcomed the challenge of directing a show where most of the characters are immoral people.
“When you hear Mozart’s music, you tend to want to put everybody on this pedestal because it’s all amazing,” he said. “But these characters are not at all people that should be on a pedestal.”
A challenge arose to not glorify these characters and their immoral actions. Shell, however, saw the potential for audiences to still associate with them through the pre-existing tropes in the show.
“There are tropes that we see played over and over again in this opera,” he said, “that we also see in our everyday lives in our society.”
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Tropes like the corrupt wealthy elite, unhealthy relationships and victim-blaming are some of the themes showcased in the performance. Shell said he enjoyed the difficulty of showcasing bad people without glorifying them or justifying their actions.
“The challenge of dealing with all that was the reason I wanted to direct this production,” he said.
Watching Shell direct this production is another experience altogether. The detail he infuses into a single scene is impressive to watch, and his passion for the craft is visible in the way he works with his cast. Shell works with each performer to give them a specific action or decision that motivates their behavior throughout a scene.
“When I work with the ensemble, I really try to bring out things in them so that they feel like they are contributing to it as opposed to just ‘come on, sing and leave,'" he said.
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This production is different than the traditional version of “Don Giovanni,” which traditionally takes place in Seville, Spain. The version Shell is directing sets the show in New York City with Giovanni as a twisted nightclub owner, which the director believes will bring the audience closer to the story.
“Lost in its 18th century presentation, I think it can feel very removed and less relatable,” he said. “So, by taking it to a different place, I think it will help the audience see all these things we’ve been talking about.”
While some may view operas as difficult to understand, Shell uses his love of musical theater to dissuade such notions and hook the audience.
“If you have to come to a show and know something prior, I haven’t done my job,” he said.
“Don Giovanni” will take place at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16, 17, 23 and 24. Tickets can be purchased online through the Jacobs School of Music website.