“Don Giovanni” Reframed for Our Troubled Times

Photo via Boston Opera Collaborative

Presented by Boston Opera Collaborative
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
Stage Direction by Patricia Maria-Weinman and Greg Smucker
Conducted by Tianhui Ng

March 28 – April 6
Ben Franklin Institute of Technology
41 Berkeley Street
Boston, MA 02116
Don Giovanni on Facebook

Content warning: Assault and sexual assault

Critique by Gillian Daniels

(Boston, MA) This iteration of Don Giovanni begins with a projection of the infamous pussy-grabbing quote from our Cheeto-in-Chief. It goes on to present images of Brett Kavanaugh, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, and so many (too many) others. From minute one, it’s clear this is a production without subtlety, but for those of us who wake up in dread of what the news will say about the continued degradation of women’s rights in the United States, this is exactly the production we need. To use Don Giovanni as a lens to view our very national moment is a bold move and a difficult one to land.

Don Giovanni (Junhan Choi, the night I went) sees himself as a winsome rake. He justifies his treatment of women as disposable vessels for sex as good, old hedonistic fun. Leporello (Andrew Miller) cleans up his messes with many complaints and no real urge to stop him. Don Giovanni is a talented, respected, famous artist, after all, specifically, a photographer. So what if he tries to rape Donna Anna (Jessica Jacobs) and kills her mother, the Commendatrice (Shannon Grace)?

But a jilted girlfriend, Donna Elvira (Isabelle Zeledón, an incredible soprano and a force to be reckoned with on stage), decides it’s time to tell Don Giovanni’s fans and contemporaries just who he really is. Unfortunately, she also still has feelings for him.

If this show, indeed, has been revived as a parable for modern times, I can see Donna Elvira as the impassioned hanger-on who, yes, knows Roman Polanski/Bryan Singer/Kevin Spacey/Louis C.K. did some very bad things, true, but he’s so charming and self assured! And his art is so well done! How can she resist?

Still, this update wrestles with some difficulty to bring together the gender politics of the 18th century opera and the 21st century. There are changes that ground the story in a different sort of present. Felisha Trundle plays Don Giovanni’s silent assistant, who looks troubled as she continually observes her boss’s sociopathy. Sarah Cooper’s vibrant Zerlina, along with her jealous fiance, John Bitsas’ Masetto, get some small measure of revenge. They’re fascinating choices for the show, yes, but I think they also soften the retelling, giving the audience someone they can point to and say, “Well, if I was there, I’d do this!” I love escapism and catharsis, too, however, there’s power in recognizing this national nightmare for the painful reckoning it is and the complicity that powers it.

Don Giovanni is, in the very least, timeless in how it portrays a true narcissist, a vortex of a person who repeatedly traps people in his orbit. Junhan Choi plays the part with endless confidence and a dark, unsettling charisma. This is a show of casual horror and stunning cruelty. I certainly recommend it for opera fans ready to sit with some very grim, centuries old demons and murderous ghosts for an evening.

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