There will be sword fights, seduction, mistaken identities, romance and raw emotion.
“As in his previous operas, ‘Figaro’ and ‘Cosi fan tutte,’ all the action in Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ takes place in 24 hours,” says Dugg McDonough, director of LSU Opera. “This isn’t a good 24 hours for Giovanni.”
“Don Giovanni” is the best known and most frequently stage version of the Don Juan legend. Mozart’s full title for his masterpiece is “Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni,” or “The Rake Punished, or Don Giovanni.”
The opera premiered on Oct. 29, 1787, in Teatro di Praga in Prague, Austria, introducing audiences to the arrogant nobleman known for his outrageous sexual promiscuity. He angers and abuses everyone he encounters, but he can’t outwit his fate.
“Such is the end of the evildoer: the death of a sinner always reflects his life,” the opera chorus sings when Giovanni meets his demise.
At LSU, it all plays out on a set idealized by McDonough and realized by the late Alan Rusnak, resident scenic designer for the New Orleans Opera’s A. Lloyd Hawkins Scenic Studio. Rusnak has been designing the LSU Opera’s productions in recent years, and his set for “Don Giovanni” was his final design.
He died on Oct. 16 after of cancer.
“We’re going to dedicate the opera to him and to the two designers in the A. Lloyd Hawkins Scenic Studio that made it possible,” McDonough says. “His wife, Sandy, said he was asking about how ‘Don Giovanni’ was coming along just before he died. She said he loved working with LSU Opera, because it allowed him freedom to be creative.”
Rusnak’s set for “Don Giovanni” is purposely minimal.
“Mozart never set Shakespeare in an opera, but ‘Don Giovanni’ is very Shakespearian in that it contains and embraces grand schemes,” McDonough says. “I wanted the set to be minimal so the story could play out in the characters’ relationships.”
Still, minimal doesn’t exactly mean bare. Masks will be prevalent in LSU Opera’s version of this story, each representing the face of a woman seduced by Giovanni. sThey’ll hang on the set wall, and in the end, they’ll play a part in their seducer’s fate, which will be preceded by plenty of action, including a choreographed sword fight.
“The masks are a visualization of Giovanni’s catalog of seductions,” McDonough says. “I can’t say too much about it, because it’ll ruin the surprise, but it’s going to be interesting. We’re also going to do something interesting with our stage floor for Giovanni’s descent into hell.”
Though McDonough has been directing LSU operas since 2002, he has not attempted to stage “Don Giovanni” until now. The production is considered among the top 10 operas and requires a combination of a wide musical range and stamina to perform.
“We had to wait until we had the right combination of singers to stage this opera,” McDonough says. “‘This opera is vocally daunting. There were some years when we had strong male singers and some years we had strong female singers. But now we have the right combination of strong male and female singers. This is a strong cast for a university production, and it’s a great opportunity showcase our strong graduate and undergraduate singers.”
The LSU Symphony Orchestra will provide accompaniment, and all but one principal role have been double cast.
“All of our performers are equally strong, so you’ll be seeing the same quality performance from either cast,” McDonough says.