While all you busy bees are making plans for the upcoming weekend, I hope you will strongly consider attending The Figaro Project’s Who Killed Don Giovanni?. The Figaro Project has been steadily building an audience in the Mid-Atlantic area with its innovative programming and solid singing. Caitlin Vincent founded the Figaro Project in June 2009 and has been an example of operapreneurship in non-traditional opera locales. I asked her to give us some insight into their upcoming production and even a bit of advice for those of us making our way in the new landscape of opera and its audience.
The Figaro Project’s adaptation Who Killed Don Giovanni? takes an imaginative bent to Mozart’s famous Don Giovanni. How did you arrive at the decision to do a whodunit retelling instead of a traditional performance of the work?
The idea of transforming Don Giovanni into a whodunit came to me last summer after I had just seen a traditional staging of the opera. It’s one of my personal favorites (right after Le nozze di Figaro), but I’ve always been a bit dissatisfied by the ending: after two acts of sex, booze, and murder, a statue suddenly comes to life, drags Don Giovanni down to hell, and it’s all over. It’s not that Don Giovanni doesn’t deserve what he gets, but the whole idea of a statue coming to life has always seemed a little too convenient, especially when all of the other characters benefit so much from Don Giovanni’s death. I started toying with the idea of what would happen if Don Giovanni wasn’t dragged down to hell by a statue but was actually murdered by one of the other characters. Every character has a motive, and, once I added a dogged police investigator assigned to solve the case, I had the first outline for Who Killed Don Giovanni?.
In terms of structure, Who Killed Don Giovanni? includes almost all of Mozart’s original music, with the exception of the recitatives, which are replaced with English dialogue. The dialogue provides the opportunity to expand Mozart’s classic characters and establish a parallel dramatic arc, as well as helping to make the opera more accessible to the audience. Our version of the story begins at the end of Mozart’s opera, just after Don Giovanni has been dragged down to hell. Before the remaining characters can begin their celebratory chorus, however, Inspector Sebastian Lorenzo arrives on the scene and informs them that they are all suspects in the murder of Don Giovanni. And then hilarity ensues.
How do you approach and insert comedy into one of the repertory’s most serious pieces?
Don Giovanni definitely has serious aspects, but I’ve always thought of the opera more as a dark comedy, with over-the-top characters and the potential for truly funny scenes (such as the serenade trio with Donna Elvira, Don Giovanni, and Leporello at the beginning of Act 2). Who Killed Don Giovanni? emphasizes the humor already present in the show but then goes further – once we were poking fun at the idea of a statue coming life, we were able to be much more tongue-in-cheek with the rest of the story. The addition of dialogue also helped the transition into comedy because we are able to bring out the neuroses and quirks of each individual character.
Do you make a connection between your experience in the liberal arts/humanities and your creative take on traditional operas?
My background in the humanities has been very helpful in terms of my ability to conceive and write these adaptations, particularly when it comes to finding inspiration in non-operatic sources. My goal for every adaptation is to maintain the integrity of the original work, while simultaneously turning the piece on its head to create something completely new and different. When you’re dealing with a work that has been performed hundreds of thousands of times, it can be challenging to step back and find a unique perspective, so I try to draw on my knowledge of literature and musical theater. For Who Killed Don Giovanni?, I was, of course, inspired by the detective genre of literature and film.
Would you say that The Figaro Project is strongly committed to ‘new music’ given its history of commissioning new operas like last year’s wildly successful triple bill and the re-imagining of multiple Mozart works?
I think it is incredibly important for opera companies of all shapes and budget sizes to promote contemporary opera in any way they can. There will always be a place for traditional operas by Puccini and Verdi, but we desperately need works that speak to the context of our time, especially if we hope to continue expanding the audience for opera.
Last year, The Figaro Project commissioned new works from three local composers (Paul Mathews, Douglas Buchanan, and Joshua Bornfield), and it was such a great experience that I made the commitment to have The Figaro Project present new works in alternating seasons. For The Figaro Project’s next “contemporary” season, we have commissioned Joshua Bornfield to write an opera in honor of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President F. Kennedy. I wrote the libretto for the piece, entitled “Camelot Requiem,” which focuses on the immediate aftermath of the President’s assassination on November 22, 1963 and will première on May 3 and 4, 2013.
Why is it important to The Figaro Project to cast Baltimore-area performers?
One of the main goals of The Figaro Project is to enrich and engage the local community with a fresh perspective toward opera. The musicians and performers who live in Baltimore are very much a part of this community and already have a stake in the musical life of the city. There are so many talented artists who contribute to the Baltimore music scene, and we are really fortunate to have more than twenty local singers, conductors, composers, and instrumentalists involved in The Figaro Project troupe. I think it’s especially important for arts organizations to maintain a sense of loyalty to local musicians during tough economic times; we all have to work together to ensure the survival of our city’s artistic and musical culture.
What have been the main catalysts of change for The Figaro Project since your first project only a few years ago in 2009?
Our first production – an original adaptation of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, entitled The Figaro Project– was very much a reaction to the economic recession and Baltimore Opera closing its doors. I had just graduated from Peabody, and instead of waiting for arts funding to recover, I decided to team up with several of my classmates to create our own performing opportunity. It wasn’t until after The Figaro Project premiered in May 2009 that I realized that we had inadvertently started our own opera company, and, so, The Figaro Project was born.
Since then, the troupe has continued to grow and develop. As we have become more established, we’ve been able to take greater artistic risks in terms of our programming and also become more ambitious in the scope of our productions. But we are still very much a grass-roots company, and our fundamental goals remain the same: to create performing opportunities for young artists in the Baltimore area and to present opera in accessible and affordable ways.
Do you have any brief pieces of advice for young opera entrepreneurs interested in presenting affordable and accessible performances in non-traditional locales?
Money (or lack thereof) is the biggest obstacle to putting on any performance, especially if you’re trying to keep tickets cheap. But there are ways to get around this hurdle: apply for grants, perform fundraising concerts, establish a relationship with the concert series of a local church. Above all, don’t forget that you can put on a fantastic show with a lot less money than you think you need.
The Figaro Project presents:
Who Killed Don Giovanni?
At the end of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the black-hearted Don is dragged down to hell for all eternity…or so we’re told. But is that what really happened? Murder is on the menu with six suspects and more than enough Mozartian motives to go around. Join The Figaro Project in unraveling the truth of Don Giovanni’s demise in this comedic adaptation of the classic opera…as a whodunit! Featuring music by Mozart and an original Figaro Project script.
May 11 and 12, 2012
Lucy & Vernon Wright Theater – University of Baltimore
21 West Mt. Royal Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21202
Tickets: $10 (students $5) – available at www.etix.com (search for “Who Killed Don Giovanni?”)
Nathan Wyatt as The Investigator
Alex Rosen as Leporello
Lydia Beasley as Donna Anna
Jessica Hanel Satava as Donna Elvira
Stephen Campbell as Don Ottavio
Caitlin Vincent as Zerlina
Greg Hoyt as Masetto
Jeremy Hirsch as The Stage Manager
Conducted by Blair Skinner
Accompanied by Ta-Wei Tsai
Directed by William Schaller
For more information, visit www.thefigaroproject.com