Wilmington Symphony Orchestra presents its final concert of the season Saturday, April 21 in cooperation with UNCW's Opera Outreach Program: Mozart's 2-act opera Don Giovanni, the part comic, ultimately tragic tale of the licentious "gentleman" Don Juan.
Baritone Ron Holmes plays the title role onstage at CFCC's Wilson Center. Showtime is 7:30pm.
Conductor Steven Errante was just 11 years old when he first met Don Giovanni. Listen above and see our extended conversation below.
Steven: Fifty four years ago, my dad took me to see Don Giovanni when the Met was on tour in Detroit and it was with Leontyne Price and Georgio Tozzi and all these stellar people. 54 years ago and I was just hooked. I was just instantly, unbelievably knocked off my feet by the emotions that got through the opera. It's taken me 54 years to actually get to perform it. That was during the days when the Met- the Metropolitan Opera- would go on tour and I lived in the Detroit area and so we went to see it and their touring company was, like I said, was their big stars. It was pretty exciting to have your first opera with Leontyne Price.
Gina: It's pretty cool that your dad took you to the opera.
Steven: He was a classical music fan. Still is.
Gina: How old is your dad?
Steven: He's just about 90. Theoretically he's driving down from Michigan to see this concert this weekend.
Gina: By himself?
Steven: By himself. Yeah. So we'll hope for the best. He's got a new car with all those lane change things. My sisters and I are trying..."dad just take a plane, you know, we'll pay for it," but he wants to drive.
Gina: If you can go back into your 11 year old mind and heart, what do you think made you love the story then? Or made you love the opera? What is it that drew you in?
Steven: I couldn't believe the combination of the music and the singing, the scenery and everything else. It wasn't an average musical experience. It was an emotional experience.
Gina: Did you understand the story then?
Steven: I don't think I understood the sexual implications of it, but it's a combination of comedy and tragedy and all those things and I think I got some of that.
Gina: Tell me the story of Don Giovanni.
Steven: This is the Don Juan story. As the original notes in the opera say, "a licentious young gentlemen who has a series of amorous conquests that he's left in his wake." The opera opens with him in the apartment of Donna Anna and he is trying to sexually assault her. She fights him off and they go out into the street and her father comes out to rescue her. So he kills the father. In the scene after that, the servant comes out and basically says, "nice going, you raped the daughter and killed the father". So that's how it starts.
Gina: Is this his first murder?
Steven: It may be his first murder.
Gina: That we know of...
Steven: That's right. The rest of the opera is spent with the so-called “good guys” trying to get revenge. Don Giovanni keeps pursuing women. Essentially, anytime a woman crosses the stage, he suddenly loses track of where he was and he starts following her. Mozart called it a drama giocoso- it's not quite a comic opera, it's a drama with some comedy in it. So he alternates between those comic elements. Toward the end, Don Giovanni meets his end because the man that he murdered comes back as a statue and drags him into the flames of hell. So despite all the politically incorrect things all the way through and the way he treats women, he gets his comeuppance at the end. And so I guess it's OK.
Gina: How does the audience feel when he gets his comeuppance?
Steven: Well, it's kind of interesting because in the original production he gets dragged into these flames and then the rest of the characters come out at the end and have this big moralistic quintet that they sing. In some of the original or early productions, they omitted that final scene so the last thing you see is Don Giovanni in the flames and it's a very, very dramatic ending. I think audiences have reacted differently over the years, over the centuries, really.
Gina: Does anyone ever have compassion for Don Giovanni?
Steven: It's a little bit difficult because he doesn't have that much to admire. He just seems to be motivated by one thing and it's not all that admirable.
Gina: Who's our main good guy?
Steven: I have a little trouble thinking that anybody is a good guy in this except the servant Leporello because the so called “good guys” are rather self-righteous about things. They're always kind of moralizing. You sort of feel sorry for some of the women he has misled. But Leporello is the very first person that you hear in the opera, he's a servant who's pacing around outside waiting for Don Giovanni to come out of this apartment. He's a comic character and he's alive at the end too, so I think he's in some ways the one that we identify with all the way through.
Gina: How is the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra bringing this story to us?
Steven: The Wilmington Symphony is cooperating with the UNCW Opera Outreach Project that Nancy King directs and so our cast consists of students or recent graduates from that program and we also have the UNCW Chamber Choir in a couple of places where there is a chorus involved. And then we have the members of the Wilmington Symphony, somewhat reduced because it's a little bit smaller orchestra for Mozart and what we're presenting is a staged production except that the orchestra actually is going to be on stage with the cast, just behind the cast.
Gina: It's a big stage though.
Steven: It's a big stage. Right. And there are places in some of the scenes where we're in Don Giovanni's palace and he supposedly has orchestras on stage playing for the entertainment- we're that. I'm told by our stage director that the cast is going to interact with the musicians on stage.
Gina: You're performing on Saturday 7:30.
Steven: 7:30, Saturday the 21st of April.
Gina: Are there costumes and all that?
Steven: There are costumes. Yes, the cast will be costumed and the orchestra will be there in our sort of orchestra garb.
Gina: What about the language?
Steven: We are performing this in Italian, but we're going to have surtitles and the folks at the Wilson Center are excited about this because they've never done surtitles before. It’s going to be a learning experience for all of us.
Gina: Tell me about your favorite piece of music or some music that you really love from this opera.
Steven: Well, back when I was 11 years old and before we went to see the Met performance, my dad had purchased the highlights album of Don Giovanni, so I had already listened to some of the music. There is an aria in which Leporello his trying to console someone who has been rejected by Don Giovanni. He thinks the perfect way to console her is to tell her about the thousands of other women who have had the same fate, so he says he's kept a list. He brings out this pad of paper and he starts reading off the number of lovers Don Giovanni has had in each country and he lists these off individually and this catalog keeps falling on the floor as he keeps peeling the pages off. When he finally gets to Spain, he says, “a thousand three ladies in Spain and you're one of them." Anyway, it was funny just to listen to it and watch the translation. When I saw it in the opera it was really something that I remember.
Gina: Who's playing that part?
Steven: Nate Stroch is playing the part of Leporello the servant. He had the experience of performing it professionally, I think in an opera house in Italy last summer. So he really knows the role.
Gina: And who is playing Don Giovanni?
Steven: Ron Holmes is playing Don Giovanni. Just an excellent baritone and he's actually appeared with us before.
Gina: He's really great.
Steven: He really commands the stage.
Gina: And then how many thousands of women do you have who are the victims?
Steven: The victims are Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and then he meets a peasant girl named Zerlina who's just about ready to get married and Don Giovanni wants to make sure that doesn't happen.
Gina: What a man.
Steven: Yeah. He's a terrible guy.
Gina: And this is the last performance of the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra season. Right?
Steven: Well, the concert is part of the Wilmington Symphony Masterworks season. We've done operas before. It's kind of exciting to have an opera with a full symphony orchestra, so every couple of years I try to do that. It's also good for the orchestra musicians because it forces them to really have to listen, to sort of stay in pace with what the singers are doing, what the action is doing.
Gina: Is there anything else you'd like to tell me about it?
Steven: I think Mozart was heading in a direction that would have been fascinating to see if he had lived a little bit longer because this opera followed the success of The Marriage of Figaro and this has a lot of the understanding of human emotions. I mean, it's just amazing how he just does a couple of little chord changes and all of a sudden you know what's going on in the mind of the character. Some of the melodies and harmonies are so emotional that you really feel sympathy for the characters. Especially when the statue enters the scene at the end and there are three trombone players in the orchestra that don't even get to play until the statue enters two hours into the opera, but all of a sudden you know he means business there. That kind of tragic direction he was going, it would've been interesting to hear what would've happened to opera. I think that Beethoven admired some of the music in Don Giovanni, although he didn't like the storyline, but he did like the music and I think you can hear it sort of... that's where Mozart might have gone.
Transcription Assistance by Production Assistant, Lindsay Wright