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Don Giovanni: A bad man, a good show

May 22, 2013|By CHRIS COPLEY | chrisc@herald-mail.com
  • Mark Wanich, left, plays the heartless womanizer Don Giovanni and Francesca Aguado plays sweet, young Zerlina in the Hub Opera Ensembles steampunk-themed production of Don Giovanni, which opens Friday, May 24, at HCCs Kepler Theater.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Meet Don Giovanni: An arrogant, tricky, sexually promiscuous nobleman. A good swordsman. An amoral killer. Wealthy beyond belief.

Meet a few of his “friends”: the Commendatore, an old and respected nobleman who the keeps peace; his daughter, Anna, who “encounters” Don Giovanni in her bedroom; Leporello, Don Giovanni’s long-suffering servant; and Ottavio, Anna’s fiance, who sees the Commendatore lying in a pool of blood and pledges vengeance.

And that’s just the first scene of “Don Giovanni,” the opera composed by Wolfgang Mozart in 1787 to a story written by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Hub Opera Ensemble performs the “Don Giovanni” over two weekends at Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College. The opening show is 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 24.

“Don Giovanni” is one of the most popular operas ever, according to Leah Crowne, who sings the role of Donna Anna.

“It has been in almost continuous production since Mozart wrote it,” she said before dress rehearsal Tuesday evening. The opera has international appeal, she added: The story is set in Spain but sung in Italian, and it was set to music by an Austrian, Mozart.

The story features characters anyone can relate to — a charismatic man with no morals; an innocent woman who wants to be loyal to her fiance; a good-hearted servant whose boss is evil; a spurned woman who vows revenge; a doting but clumsy husband who can’t defend his wife from dishonor.

Hub Opera Ensemble’s production features another element to make the story compelling: Designers set the story in a steampunk world. Director Sam Little pitched the idea.

“Because the story has had such a long life all by itself, I didn’t want something that would represent (Spain) in the 18th century,” he said. “I wanted a world that could be anytime. The steampunk genre lent itself to that — it could be anything and everything.”

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, a sort of alternative version of the Victorian era in which industrialization led to steam-powered autos, airplanes, guns, computers and household machines. It’s a cross between Victorian elegance and modern technology.

Little originally came to “Don Giovanni” to choreograph the fight scenes, and there’re plenty of fight scenes. But when Little was asked to direct the whole show, he said yes. He liked the idea of setting it in a steampunk world disconnected to a specific country or era.

“We’re mixing rapiers and broadswords. Different costume pieces and styles — just mix them all together and not keep it super-defined,” Little said. “That goes along with the set, because the set is not super-defined. It’s flexible.”

The simple set is more evocative than highly detailed. The floor and backdrops are black. Two tall, black girders stretch up and out of sight. Several platforms on stage suggest steel beams and polished woodwork. These are moved between scenes to create a courtyard, a ballroom, a cemetery and other scenes.

Joe Rathvon designed the set to be flexible.

“This does eight different configurations,” he said. “With the amount of stage space we have and the amount of people we’ll have on stage, the limited wing space and limited budget, I had to be a little more creative with things. So we decided to use a few pieces and get as many different looks out of them as possible.”

And there are some special effects for certain scenes in the opera, he said. He didn’t want to spoil the surprise, there is a supernatural element to the play.

Costumes are a big part of the steampunk look. HCC costume-design instructor Robin Shaner created 38 costumes for the show. For that many costumes, she used as many outfits as possible from the ensemble’s closet.

“The inspiration is coming from the Victorian Era, the late Victorian, with steam technology,” she said. “Found objects are involved. I  repurposed costumes we already had, accessorized them. I also made hats — lots and lots of hats — and headpieces. And fascinators — little headpieces that get attention — and used a lot of goggles. It was a lot of acccessorizing.”

Costumes and sets work together with lighting, makeup and other stagecraft elements to contribute to the overall story, Shaner said. That’s the way of producing a staged show.

“It’s a group art,” she said. “You can’t have somebody do something without helping someone else in another area.”

It all goes to drawing the audience into the story. Drama is about seduction, after all — a vast collaboration of skilled people to create a compelling story and delivering a satisfying entertainment.

Don Giovanni will be right at home.



If you go ...       

WHAT: “Don Giovanni”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Fridays, May 24 and 31; 3 p.m. Sunday, May 26; and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1

WHERE: Hagerstown Community College’s Kepler Theater, 11400 Robinwood Drive, east of Hagerstown

COST: Advanced tickets cost $15 to $20, plus service fee; at the door, $20 to $25

CONTACT: Call 240-347-3001 or email hubopera@huboperaensemble.org

MORE: Sung in Italian with English subtitles.


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