Opera Director Kyle Lang’s Rock Star Take on Don Giovanni

Mozart’s 1787 opera Don Giovanni, arguably his best opera and a staple of the repertory, is not only set in 18th-century Europe, but its plot is structured around the mores and class distinctions of that era. The opera’s alternate title, Il dissoluto punito (“The Libertine Punished”) announces the moral of the story: the title character may indulge every privilege his exalted station affords, but his immorality will bring him down.

Kyle Lang [photo courtesy of the artist]

Kyle Lang, Stage Director for San Diego Opera’s upcoming production of Don Giovanni, wants to extricate the opera from its colorful historical trappings.

“When the company asked me to do a production with the orchestra on stage that would not simply be a concert version of the opera, I decided it needed to be a contemporary production, an immersive event that was more like a rock concert. After all, the character Don Giovanni is a rock star of sorts.

Germán Enrique Alcántara [photo courtesy of the artist]

“I decided it should have a theatrical element, enhanced by dramatic use of lighting and digital projections that reflect the psychological state of the singers, in order to break that ‘fourth wall’ and allow the singers to connect more directly to the audience.”

He offered his touchstone for the type of performance he wants: Freddie Mercury and Queen in their 1985 Live-Aid concert.

“We are building a platform over the orchestra pit to create a downstage area for the singers to place them closer to the audience,” he explained.

As Lang described this project, it called to mind a previous production he directed for San Diego Opera in 2017, Laura Kaminsky’s chamber opera As One, staged at the Joan B. Kroc Theatre. A stage for the actors for was built around the opera’s onstage chamber ensemble, which also brought the actors closer to the audience. And large visual projections focused the protagonists’ moods and defined the location of the drama.

Tasha Koontz [photo courtesy of the artist]

“My goal,” Lang explained, “is to shift from trying to make people happy because they like the pretty sets and costumes, to make them consider the human condition as they see themselves in the characters. And to realize that every character—not just Don Giovanni—is a complex make-up of good and bad. I hope they leave with thoughts about their own lives that didn’t have before encountering these characters in the situations Mozart and Da Ponte have placed them.”

General Director David Bennett has assembled a promising cast for this production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which will be presented at San Diego Civic Theater on February 2 & 3, 2024. Making his San Diego debut, Argentine baritone Germán Enrique Alcántara will sing the title role, and soprano Tasha Koontz will sing Donna Anna. San Diego audiences will recall Koontz as Frasquita in the company’s well-received 2019 Carmen production, for which Lang was Choreographer. Mezzo-soprano Megan Moore will sing Donna Elvira, and tenor Alex McKissick will sing Don Ottavio. Soprano Ashley Fabian, who sang Bellezza in Opera Neo’s production of Handel’s Il Triofono del Tempore e del Disingano last summer at The Conrad, will sing Zerlina. Bass Stefan Egerstrom will sing Masetto, and bass-baritone Brent Michael Smith will sing the Commendtore.

Alex McKissick [photo courtesy of the artist]

San Diego Opera Principal Conductor Yves Abel will conduct Don Giovanni. Exactly a year ago at Civic Theatre with Lang as Stage Director and Choreographer, Abel presided over the company’s acclaimed production of Pucini’s Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi from Il Trittico.

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