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Mozart's opera: A tale of lust in comedy, drama

March 24, 2008

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    March 24, 2008
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    Press
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    Opera Carolina News

Mozart's opera: A tale of lust in comedy, drama

Long before politicians got into trouble with call girls, the legend of Don Juan showed what can happen when a man's urges run rampant. The libertine cuts a swath through the Belk Theater starting Thursday, when Opera Carolina stages Mozart's "Don Giovanni" -- which sweeps Don Juan through drama, comedy and the supernatural.

Making a connection
"He's not a character I have a lot in common with personally," says Kristopher Irmiter, who will portray Don Juan -- or Don Giovanni in the opera's Italian -- for Opera Carolina. Irmiter, a Winthrop University graduate, has lived in Rock Hill since the early 1990s, when he moved back after going through the San Francisco Opera's training program. He has performed across the United States and Canada, and he likens Giovanni to another character he has played: Mephistopheles, the incarnation of the devil in Gounod's "Faust." Mephistopheles' intentions are sinister, Irmiter notes, "but he has a certain elegance and charm ... that allow him to achieve his ends. Don Giovanni has to have that as well."

Day of judgment
By the time Mozart came along, scores of plays, operas and ballets had put Don Juan onstage. But Mozart and his collaborator, writer Lorenzo da Ponte, created what became the classic. It carries the audience along with Don Juan's final skirt-chasing before his downfall, when a man he has killed -- the father of a would-be conquest -- drags him off to hell.

Versatility
When Mozart came to the Don Juan tale, tradition was to blend the drama of the libertine's exploits with comedy from other directions, such as the libertine's servant/sidekick. Mozart and da Ponte followed the lead. They labeled their version "dramma giocoso," which translates roughly as "jovial drama." A tricky combination. Who better than Mozart to pull it off?

The story in sound
The overture's thunderous opening -- a foretaste of the music that summons Giovanni to hell at the opera's climax -- tells us that something terrible is in store. But the exuberance so familiar from Mozart's comedies soon interrupts. Don Giovanni knows how to enjoy food, wine and all life's pleasures, Irmiter notes. Mozart's charismatic music tells us that. And by harking back to the power of his serious operas, Mozart captures the emotion and nobility of the characters who tangle with Giovanni.

Typecasting?
Irmiter has played Giovanni's servant, Leporello, in several productions. But this is his first time in the title role. He says he's hard at work shaping his portrayal. "I've never thought of myself as a babe magnet. ... But I'm playing this guy who because of his seductive techniques or his hypnotism power or brute force is able to have any woman he would like." He notes with a laugh, "My wife gets a kick out of this."

Something to ponder
After Don Giovanni is dragged down to his eternal reward, a postlude drives home the moral of the story and sketches out the survivors' future. Giovanni isn't the only character whose fate can be a warning, Irmiter says. He thinks Elvira, a woman Giovanni abandons, is a clear case of a woman who can't let go."Obviously," Irmiter says, "we want to entertain people. ... But the ideal is to not only entertain them but maybe to make them think." PREVIEW

Don Giovanni Opera Carolina performs in Italian, with translations in English.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. next Sunday.
WHERE: Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St.
TICKETS: $15-$95.
DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.operacarolina.org.

STEVEN BROWN
sbrown@charlotteobserver.com