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‘Don Giovanni’ Preview: A Modern Don Giovanni For The 21st Century

Music Director Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque.
Music Director Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque. By Courtesy of Boston Baroque
By Lara R. Tan, Crimson Staff Writer

“Don Giovanni” is undoubtedly one of the most loved, feared, and praised works in the operatic repertoire. Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with an Italian libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, it premiered in Prague in 1787 to critical acclaim. Almost two and a half centuries later, Boston Baroque will present “Don Giovanni” in The Huntington Theatre, creating a production that speaks to modern sensibilities while honoring the work’s classical performance tradition. In this production, the character of Don Giovanni has been reimagined as a modern celebrity and influencer, as the characters around him are drawn into his antics in a world driven by social media.

Directed by Chuck Hudson in his Boston Baroque directorial debut, this production of “Don Giovanni” promises a modern retelling of the legendary titular character Don Giovanni — a Spanish nobleman and arrant libertine — and his exploits. Hudson expressed his excitement at tackling the dark tragicomedy and its theme of “social Don Juan-ism,” or what Hudson views as self-centredness and entitlement in a patriarchal, misogynistic context.

“Men of a particular social status believe that simply by being who they are, they can have a sense of power and control over women. And that’s something I find particularly topical, right now, even though we don’t have nobility,” Hudson said.

Indeed, throughout the course of the opera, Don Giovanni inserts himself into the personal lives of those around him, as he represents an unstoppable force of societal chaos and sexual bravado. Especially in the Age of Reason, the period that Mozart and da Ponte wrote during, it was widely believed that men were capable of reason in contrast to hysterical and emotional women, a stereotype that “Don Giovanni” completely upends.

“Mozart and da Ponte write emotional men and very thinking, logical, reasonable women. And I find that really compelling in all of their works,” Hudson said.

Given the unexpected subversiveness of “Don Giovanni” as a social critique, Hudson shared that he is all the more excited to situate the opera in the context of the 21st century.

“I like placing classical works in a variety of different periods to highlight how that universal theme is still happening,” Hudson said. His version of “Don Giovanni” will therefore present the casanova as a modern celebrity with a bombastic social media presence, not unlike figures in contemporary pop culture.

Soprano Maya Kherani, who plays Zerlina, a peasant girl and one of Don Giovanni’s many amorous conquests, also expressed her enthusiasm for Hudson’s vision of the opera. In the opera, Zerlina is to be wed to Masetto, a fellow peasant, but not before Don Giovanni inserts himself between the couple. Kherani spoke specifically of her character’s underappreciated agency and the soft power that she holds over both men.

“She’s very interesting, especially as a commentary on class stratification and how she can use her lower status to gain the upper hand on others. It’s subversive and really fun to bring to life,” Kherani said.

On the orchestral front, the production will feature musicians playing on Baroque instruments and singers performing at a slightly lower pitch than the modern standard, likely similar to “what Mozart’s original audiences heard,” according to Hudson. Kherani spoke of the unique feel this will lend to the performance.

“Period instruments have a different color to them. And so being able to sing in these big Mozart ensembles with them, and the agility and freshness you get with period instruments makes for a different sound world,” Kherani said.

David McFerrin, who plays Masetto, is no stranger to Boston Baroque’s fearless appetite for period music, having made his debut with the company in 2017. This production will be McFerrin’s role debut as Masetto and any role in “Don Giovanni,” for that matter, and he spoke warmly of the collaborative spirit driving the cast and crew of the production.

“There’s a reason why it's considered one of the highlights of the repertory because there are such amazing individual shining moments but also the ensembles and the way Mozart wrote music that comes together. It’s very much a team project and I love opportunities for true collaboration on stage,” McFerrin said.

Boston Baroque’s production of “Don Giovanni” runs at The Huntington Theatre from April 25 to April 28.

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