The ever-iconic purple curtain of the Musical Arts Center rises, contrasting behind it the dark, grey, grimy set representing 1950s New York City. As smoke drifts across the stage, the atmosphere is ominous — the perfect setting for a story like “Don Giovanni” to unfold.
Jacobs School of Music will present this opera with two different casts from Sept. 16, 17, 23 and 24 at the Musical Arts Center.
“Don Giovanni” tells the story of the titular wealthy nightclub owner who seeks nothing but the means to his own pleasure. Over the course of two days, he sinks deeper and deeper into the consequences of his actions, ultimately leading to his doom.
This dark opera is told in two acts, with music by Amadeus Mozart and an Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. The score by Mozart remains as iconic as the rest of his work, but also remains a challenge to sing due to its complex composition. Yuntong Han, an IU grad student playing Don Ottavio in one cast, took the challenge as a test rather than a burden.
“It makes me want to try, to see where I am,” Han said. “While also enjoying the beautiful melody of the show.”
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The vocal challenge lies in the layout of the notes, as the complex structure woven by Mozart varies in pitch and tempo. It is constantly changing to reflect the frenzied emotions of the characters in the show.
“It’s not the high notes but it’s the tessitura,” Han said. “The way he wrote the opera is difficult for everyone, there are notes between the high register and the middle register that need to be sung.”
David Drettwan, a first-year grad student at IU, plays the titular character in one cast. Despite the twisted nature of Giovanni, he found the role intriguing from an acting standpoint.
“He is an exercise in motivation because ‘what does he want’ and ‘how does he get it’,” Drettwan said. “There’s this manipulation aspect to him where he’ll say whatever you want to hear to get what he wants.”
Throughout the show, Giovanni uses and abandons those around him in pursuit of his own pleasure. Using a clock projected on stage, the audience can see how much damage this one man can do to the people around him in just two days.
“He is the catalyst for other character’s arcs,” Drettwan said, “even though he remains sort of steadfast.”
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One of the characters heavily impacted by Giovanni is Donna Anna, who at the start of the show is assaulted offstage by Giovanni while he poses as her fiancée Don Ottavio. Sophia Hunt, a first year Performance Diploma student at IU, plays the emotionally complex character and saw Donna Anna’s quest for revenge against Giovanni as a form of catharsis and recovery from her trauma.
“This is her form of dealing with what has happened,” Hunt said. “She’s always had a lot of hope — which I think is very human. In her big aria, ‘Non mi dir’ I think you see her hope for a better future for herself.”
While this production has been “modernized,” — now taking place in the ‘50s with Giovanni as a nightclub owner as opposed to a nobleman — the production is in no way negatively impacted by this change. Hunt, who has done updated versions of “Don Giovanni” in the past, supported the modernization of the show, citing its timeless themes as a primary reason.
“We’re still so drawn to this because these characters are so human,” Hunt said. “Parts of them exist in us now. I think we can all think of Don Giovanni’s in our lives so it’s not tied to a time period in the same way other stories might be.”