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May 21, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 21, 2004

Mozart's Don Juan Mozart's Don Juan (May 21, 2004)

West Bay's 'Don Giovanni' a tale of love and revenge

by Elizabeth White

W hether it is in movies, music or theater, everyone likes to see the villain get it in the end. And with West Bay Opera's upcoming production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, they'll get that satisfaction to the hilt.

The timeless story of Don Juan ("Don Giovanni" in Italian) and his pathological need to seduce all women he meets is one of the classics. First written and performed in 1787, the opera traces the transgressions and fall of Don Giovanni, a libertine who seduces and sometimes rapes women. In the opera, he kills the father (Il Commendatore) of one of his victims, Donna Anna, and eventually pays the ultimate price for his sins when the statue of the slain commander drags him to hell.

"A lot of people think opera is grand opera with a capital 'G.' This isn't," said Kenneth Tigar, the production's stage director. "It's a story people can understand. It's about love and revenge and our lives. The passions are high but the people are very real."

Tigar said while there are many versions of the Don Juan legend, Mozart's is the one people remember because it is done so well. The score, according to Kirk Eichelberger, who plays Don Giovanni, is very dramatic and filled with music familiar to even those who have never seen an opera. The plot, he added, is also very dramatic -- it's full of sex and violence.

"It's basically 18th-century Jerry Springer with credit for culture," said Shana Blake Hill, who plays Donna Anna.

Lori Decter, one of two singers playing Donna Elvira, another of Don Giovanni's conquests, said this opera offers a perfect first experience for those who have never attended.

"It's just accessible on so many levels," she said, adding that while the opera is dark and its tone generally very tragic, Don Giovanni's servant, Leporello, offers some comic relief with his ongoing commentary.

"There's never really a dull moment," added Elizabeth Caballero, who shares the part of Donna Elvira in the three-hour-plus production.

In fact, Mozart characterized Don Giovanni, sung in Italian but set in Spain, as "dramma giocosa ," Tigar said, a term that means "playful or joking drama." Even the overture starts heavy and then turns more lighthearted and bubbly.

"It's revered for its extraordinary qualities of ingenuity, characterization and expressiveness. And sheer beauty," said David Sloss, West Bay's general director and the music director for "Don Giovanni." "We as musicians are awed by this music when we hear it and excited at the prospect that we're going to see this opera unfold."

The opera, from its set design to its costumes, is also designed to be accessible to the audience by being very intimate, according to Tigar. The costumes are characteristic of those that would have appeared in Mozart's time (the late 18th century) instead of historical Spanish costumes of the 16th or 17th centuries.

"My concept is that we're doing it almost as if it were a chamber opera for lords or the nobility," Tigar said. "It's not very formal. In many ways I want it to be less formal, as if it were being done for a group of friends."

All cast members, with the exception of Hill and Eichelberger (Donna Anna and Don Giovanni, respectively), are making their debuts with West Bay. But Sloss said all the singers are up to the challenge of taking on the opera's complex and dense music.

"There is very complex part writing, such as a sextet in the second and final acts," Caballero said, adding that that sextet in particular, is ahead of its time because it has a jazz harmony to it.

The singers, Sloss said, also have a lot of opportunity to explore the music, because it is filled with recitative (performed to the accompaniment of just one instrument).

"There is no written-out version of the accompaniment. You really do improvise the details of what you play," Sloss said. "(The recitative ) showcases the drama. It is sung, but it's accessible like conversation or dialogue."

Having not performed "Don Giovanni" for 15 years, Sloss decided it was time to revive this tried-and-true production. The timing coincides with West Bay Opera's efforts to recover from last season's financial losses.

"In this particular case we needed a show that was one of the very well-known ones because we needed to sell it," Sloss said. "Don Giovanni was the perfect solution."

What: "Don Giovanni," presented by West Bay Opera. The production features music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.

Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road (at Melville Avenue) in Palo Alto

When: Tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. Additional show times are May 28-29 at 8 p.m. and May 30 at 2 p.m.

Cost: Tickets are $43, with a special $21.50 youth ticket (for those under 18) for Sunday matinees only. A $2 handling fee will be applied to each ticket. For tickets please call the West Bay Opera box office at (650) 424-9999, Monday through Friday, 1 to 6 p.m., or visit Tickets may also be purchased at the Holt Building, 221 Lambert Ave. in Palo Alto.

Info: Call (650) 424-9999 or visit

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