Describing his writing method, the hard-boiled detective novelist Raymond Chandler said, “I do a great deal of research, particularly in the apartments of tall blondes.”
That line could have come out of the mouth of Don Giovanni, the libertine title character of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera.
There’s a darkness and sexual squalor in “Don Giovanni” that one also finds in the novels of Chandler, James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett. The Lyric Opera of Kansas City will explore that connection when it presents a film noir production of “Don Giovanni” for four performances beginning Saturday.
“Film noir is about seduction and about mystery, and the lead character, Don Giovanni, is about seduction and about mystery,” said Deborah Sandler, general director and CEO of the Lyric Opera. The opera is directed by Kristine McIntyre. “There’s a lot that happens in this opera that we don’t see. It’s kind of in the dark. It’s about hints. The darkness and the shadows of film noir seem to be a very good lens with which to see this opera.”
Film noir detectives of the 1940s and ’50s are flawed knights, but their sins and indiscretions make them so interesting. Daniel Okulitch, who sings the role of Don Giovanni, sees his character as being very much an anti-hero.
“Walter White in ‘Breaking Bad’ is a classic anti-hero,” Okulitch said. “He does despicable things, but he also has a humanity, so you’re conflicted about what to feel about him. The same thing applies to Don Giovanni. Everybody wants something from him even though they hate him for it. Don himself has an incredible sense of what everyone wants and can change himself to be that to get what he wants, which is the high of conquest. He’s an adrenaline junkie.”
Early in his career, Okulitch sang in a production of “La Boheme” that also had a cinematic feel. It was directed by Baz Luhrmann, best known for directing over-the-top films like “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gatsby.” Okulitch believes that when a director knows what he or she is doing, stagecraft can give the feeling of cinema.
“Baz really understood that while he had a cinematic eye, it had to be scaled and used in a way that still honored what a stage production required,” Okulitch said.
“He talked about how you can create an extreme close-up on stage. If you have 100 people on stage, and 99 of them look at one other person, that’s an extreme close-up. Everyone in the audience will go, ‘What are they looking at?’ You can create effects, but it has to be with the tools at your disposal.”
McIntyre, whom Sandler describes as “fastidious about detail,” will have many tools at her disposal, including the Muriel Kauffman Theatre’s state-of-the-art lighting, period costumes designed by Mary Traylor and a young cast of singers Sandler says is “not only one of the best singing casts we’ve ever had, but a good-looking bunch of people.”
In addition to Okulitch, who has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Washington National Opera and Santa Fe Opera, the cast also includes Rachelle Durkin as Donna Anna and the Cuban-born Elizabeth Caballero as Donna Elvira. Caballero has become a Kansas City favorite, appearing in previous Lyric productions as Cio-Cio-san in “Madame Butterfly” and Liù in “Turandot.”
Samantha Gossard, who sings the role of Zerlina, is a former Lyric Opera apprentice and Rhys Lloyd Talbot, Masetto, is a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, reflecting the Lyric’s commitment to working with the Conservatory to promote opera and students’ fledgling careers. Gary Thor Wedow, a specialist in Mozart and early music, will conduct the orchestra and Lyric stalwart R. Keith Brumley is designing the sets.
Okulitch says that he has sung the role of Don Giovanni probably more than any other in his career, and he always finds it a challenge. Giovanni is required to sing a wide range of styles, from simple peasant melodies to grandiose music to soft ballads. And then there’s the big final scene, with Giovanni, as Okulitch says, “roaring out his defiance at the Commendatore.”
“Dramatically, you are asked to continually be on. There’s never a moment of rest when Giovanni is on stage. He doesn’t get to slack. He’s supposed to be a force of nature, so even in his casual moments, there’s a bubbling energy you have to have.”
Okulitch thinks this is the perfect opera and the perfect production to convert someone to become an opera fan. Okulitch always sees himself as an ambassador for the art form.
“I really take that part of the job seriously,” he said. “If I don’t have anyone who’s going to be using my comp ticket, I’ll give it to my coffee barista or someone like that. When you get them to a live performance, they realize how incredibly different and engaging it is from the solitary experience of watching something on your television or your computer. People just have to be brought into that experience, and then they realize how special it is.”
There may be no greater star of musical theater right now than Audra McDonald.
The Harriman-Jewell Series will present the six-time Tony Award winner in recital Saturday night at Helzberg Hall.
McDonald, who was trained at Juilliard, is one of the most versatile singers performing today. Her repertoire extends beyond the world of Broadway to encompass everything from opera to art song. Her program in Kansas City will be announced from the stage, adding excitement to the evening’s proceedings.
The French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie is a versatile performer. He has played the complete sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven in recital at Wigmore Hall, but is also highly regarded for his interpretations of Maurice Ravel and Frédéric Chopin. The Friends of Chamber Music will present Lortie Saturday night at the Folly Theater in a program that will show off his range.
The recital will begin with Mozart’s Sonata No. 8 in A Minor, K. 310, one of Mozart’s most tragic works. Written shortly after the death of the composer’s mother, for which his father blamed him, this sonata is a profound expression of Mozart’s grief.
Lortie will follow that with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101. With this work, Beethoven was entering his late period where all rules were off the table. By the time Beethoven wrote this sonata, he was almost totally deaf, which perhaps contributed to the work’s inward-looking, deeply personal character.
The program will conclude with Alexander Scriabin’s 24 Preludes, Op. 11, which the composer modeled after Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Op. 28. It took Scriabin eight years to compose these preludes, which cover all 24 major and minor keys. His thoughtful labor is reflected in pieces that range from the beautifully simple to the ferociously virtuosic.
New Dance Partners
The Oklahoma City Ballet is taking part in “New Dance Partners: The Ultimate Collaboration,” presented by the Performing Arts Series of Johnson County Community College on Friday and Saturday at Yardley Hall.
New Dance Partners is an innovative program spearheaded by Emily Behrmann, general manager of JCCC’s Performing Arts Series. It’s a wonderful way to experience some of the country’s finest new choreography performed by local and regional dance ensembles.
This year, choreographers Gregory Dawson, Brian Enos and Kate Skarpetowska are contributing works that will be danced by Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance, Owen/Cox Dance Group and first-time New Dance partner Oklahoma City Ballet.