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Don Giovanni at Halloween

What are the chances that Washington National Opera serendipitously scheduled director John Pascoe’s new production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni around Halloween? Given the masked revelers early in the opera and the later graveyard scene where a statute of the man Don G has killed declares it will get revenge, the Dresser believes that WNO General Director Plácido Domingo (he is also the conductor for this production) was making another attempt to attract a younger audience while also trying to sustain the support of opera elders. After all, this is Mozart’s music with fantastic arias, duets and ensemble singing that plucks the muffs off a classical music lover’s sensitive ears!


Before the elders misread the Dresser’s intention, she’ll say she generally enjoyed the show seen October 29, 2007. Without reservations, the singing abilities of those cast in the lead roles do justice to this WNO production. The Dresser does have a few nits such as Erin Wall’s portrayal of Donna Anna lamenting over her dead father seemed to start late and without the appropriate emotional load one would expect. The complaint here is not about her singing, but more about musical direction and acting. Also the Dresser felt impatient with the overly long and maybe too serious aria Donna Anna sings to her fiancé whom she keeps putting off. (As in: I-can’t-marry-you-yet-I’m-grieving-but-what-you-don’t-know-is-the-grief-is-about-losing-the-attention-of-Don-Giovanni-the-cad-who-killed-my-daddy.) Yes, here the Dresser is complaining about Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Amanda Squitieri as Zerlina was notably skillful in her seduction scenes of the jealous Masetto (Trevor Scheunemann). Another Pascoe touch that the Dresser liked was the processional movement of various players including the young delectable women surrounding Don G and the religious groups of nuns and deacons. The Pascoe sets were inventive and interesting to look at but the Dresser did wonder about the set early in Act II that looked like hanging laundry, a touch one would expect in Naples but not Venice where the opera seems to be set.


Now turning back to the conjunction of this Don G production and its relation to Halloween, the Dresser will diverge here slightly. According to the Washington Post on October 30, 2007, the Baby Boomers have appropriated the celebration of Halloween to the degree that costume fashion has turned to racy outfits. This has filtered down to little girls begging their parents to allow them to wear bustiers, net stockings and other sluttish attire. Enter John Pascoe as costume designer for Don Giovanni. Pascoe has ratcheted up the sexuality in this story about a ruthless womanizer. Erwin Schrott as Don G in various scenes sports costumes that suggest an S & M master. Schrott is a handsome man and he exudes the necessary sexuality in his bare-chested getups.
wno_dongiov.jpgPhoto by Karin Cooper

His number one slave is Donna Elvira (played by Anja Kampe). Elvira wears a leather bustier, skin-tight pants, and an floor-length coat that flows like a mantle around her. How could any man resist her allure?
Photo by Karin Cooper

Well, Pascoe presents her in the opening and closing scene with an infant in her arms and in the company of nuns.

Some of the other players such as Donna Anna (daughter of the murdered man) and Don Ottavio (Anna’s fiancé) for the most part seem to be dressed in Victorian dresses and Napoleonic military uniforms. DonG.jpgPhoto by Karin Cooper

The dress of the peasant girl Zerlina seems less clear and has almost a 1930s look, especially the dress Don G gives to her to wear as he tries to convince her to marry him instead of groom Masetto. The Dresser pauses here to wonder aloud what time frame does the director/costume designer assign these costumes? Oops and then there are the young girls in petticoats with something like bridal veils thrown over them head to toe. They could easily be transported to the stage of Isadora Duncan.


The question about how to get a younger audience to the opera haunts everyone in the business of producing opera. After all, the death of the opera elders is right around the next scary corner. Recently, the Dresser joined a list server on opera and got a story about a man offering his daughter and her friend tickets to the opera. Although the daughter had been brought up with classical music and played an instrument, she turned her father down and said she preferred to go to the movies. The Dresser suggested to the man that his daughter was asserting her independence and trying to find her own arts form—one where there was little chance of running into her parents and their generation. The man said there was an occasion where an opera company had hired a film star and that caused a great stir among young people who showed up at the stage door to see their idol.

Last weekend the Dresser had the opportunity to sit down in a northern Virginia shopping mall and eat lunch with a young woman who was attending college and working in one of the shops in that mall. The Dresser asked her would she go to an opera if given free tickets. The young woman said she would give those tickets to her mother.

Do these anecdotes mean Don Giovanni needs to be modeled after the cult film The Rock Horror Show? Would this bring the Halloween revelers (some of whom are 60 years old by the way) off the streets of Georgetown into the Kennedy Center? The Dresser is not sure about this, but certainly the creation of a hip, hot spot would most likely drive away the opera elders. The trouble with Pascoe’s production is that it has its foot too squarely planted in the old traditional world of opera while it shyly courts something a little out of the box.

Here’s Miles David Moore’s take on the ultimate movie to cap off this discussion of love, opera and film.


could dream the movie to end all movies?
From Eva Tanguay (madcap vaudeville star
played in the movies by Betty Gaynor
or Mitzi Hutton, Fatslug forgets just which)
and Yves Tanguy (French painter famous
for surrealist landscapes of transcendent ugliness)

Fatslug imagines
an MGM-Gaumont co-production
starring Betmitz Gayhut and Maurice Jourdan:
Eva and yves, an absurdist musical
half Annie Get Your Gun, half Chien Andalou.
It opens with Eva and Yves holding hands
in a landscape of boiled beans and bleached bones.
“Do what comes natcherly!” Eva yodels, and falls
delicately on her prat.
Yves leans over her, his cigarette ash
setting fire to her cowgirl blouse, and whispers,
“Ma cherie, my putrefying seacow of love…”

…as the Melting Watch Girls swing and sway
among Erik Satie and his All-Dead-Mule Orchestra.
Ruby Keeler and Eleanor Powell
as the Demoiselle Sisters from West Avignon
tap on the floor of quicksand and Bakelite.
Danny Kaye sings a futuristic patter
by Marinetti and Sylvia Fine,
and Carmen Miranda, in a spectacular
rotting-banana-and-slit-eyeball headdress,
wobbles as she warbles Montmartre’s biggest hit,
The Tanguay-Tanguy Tango…

…a jump cut to printemps. Eva and Yves
are buried up to their necks on the beach,
waiting for love to drown them in tide-
blue waves of Technicolor ecstasy
as Esther Williams mocks them with her butterfly stroke
and Johnny Weissmuller kicks sand in their faces.

by Miles David Moore
from Rollercoaster

Copyright © 2007 Miles David Moore


Comments (5)

Patti Absher:

I enjoyed this opera with its lush sexuality. I think the Dresser really captures what is special about the production.

Using Miles David Moore's poem is a cherry on top of the sundae!
Grace Cavalieri


I am sorry I disappointed the Dresser so.

Most audiences find Donna Anna an hateful character. They don't like the fact that she is continually putting off Ottavio, even though only 24 hours passes during the course of the opera. Would anyone really want to talk about wedding plans in the 24 hours after the violent death of a parent, a death for which Anna is indirectly responsible? She is not only grief-ridden, but guilt-stricken. Not that it matters.

Unfortunately, the DC audiences seem more preoccupied with the characters who entertain them, not the musical artistry or singing which makes the opera a unique art form. Only entertaining characters get rewarded, and Anna is definitely not entertaining.

Incidentally, this particular production is set in Seville (as Mozart & DaPonte intended). The time period in this production is intended to be the 1930s, although there are elements of both Mozart's time (Anna & Ottavio's attire) and the future (Elvira, Don Giovanni) in the costumes.

Dear Erin Wall,

Your singing was skilled and awesome.

What you say about this Don G being set in Seville (despite the early scene where the masqued ball is known as ballo venezio) during the 1930s except for those costumes that belong to Mozart's time or some time in the future, confirm the confusion reflected in the interactions between musical and stage direction. The Dresser feels you were caught in the crossfire.


If we assume that Don Giovanni seduced Donna Anna, rather than raped her, her behavior makes more sense. Guilt over killing Dad with her sluttish behavior. Feels unworthy to be a wife. Maybe enjoying not having a man in charge of her life, Dad being dead, makes her less anxious to get married. (Even in the 1930s, Seville pretty patriarchal society!) Feeling guilty about that too.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 31, 2007 4:05 PM.

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