‘Don Giovanni’ at SU

Posted: April 25, 2013

The Winchester Star

Jakob Kato (center) plays the title role in the opera, “Don Giovanni,” this weekend at Shenandoah University. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

Winchester — One of fiction’s most famous playboys will test his seduction skills this weekend in Shenandoah Conservatory’s production of “Don Giovanni.”

The final student production of the season will bring Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera to the stage in Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre, said Jan Wagner, artistic director of the symphony orchestra and opera productions. Performances will be at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

The production is the culmination of months of works by students in the conservatory’s opera, symphony orchestra and musical theater divisions, he said.

“The level is really quite high and comparable to any regional company,” said Wagner of Cross Junction. “The goal is for us to set it up for the students to feel what that is like.”

Ticket prices are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students and active military.

The opera follows the adventures and eventual demise of the licentious Don Giovanni (played by Jakob Kato), a character based on the legends of Don Juan, director Richard Kagey said. Aided by his servant Leporello (Erik Irgens), who runs interference for his master, Don Giovanni moves from one conquest to another without care for the consequences of his actions.

Among the women he attempts to seduce are Donna Anna (Carolyn Forte), Zerlina (Taylor Thorn) and Donna Elvira (Melissa Chavez).

Also in the mix are the first two women’s fiancés, Don Ottavio (Jackson Caesar) and Masetto (Galen Mooney); Commendatore (Philip Sargent), who is Donna Anna’s father; the chorus, and an offstage chorus that sings in Act II, Kagey said.

“Don Giovanni” is a rare piece of drama and comedy, having a very serious side interspersed with “alarmingly funny parts to it,” he said. The opera begins with an attempted rape and murder, “which is pretty brutal,” and immediately jumps to much lighter moments in the next scenes.

“There are these moments of levity followed by incredible drama, and that is what makes it such a brilliant piece,” said Kagey, of Atlanta, Ga.

Choosing an opera for the students to perform always involves working within certain parameters, Wagner said. The piece is chosen, based on the returning students and their voice types, as well as the incoming freshmen that have been accepted in the program.

The orchestra is also a consideration. The symphony orchestra normally has 70 to 80 players, but because of limited space in the theater’s pit, he has to cut that in half.

The fact that “Don Giovanni” works within those restrictions was a boon since it is such a brilliant opera, Wagner said. Mozart’s music combines with an Italian libretto (text) by Lorenzo Da Ponte in such a way that it “underscores the drama.”

Added to that, each of the seven principal roles has satisfying parts, and the production features several “beautiful solos and magnificent arias,” he said.

“For them, it is a great experience to do it in the original Italian,” said Wagner, adding that English subtitles will be projected on a screen above the stage.

What Kagey thinks is so exciting about working with young singers in an opera is watching them wrap themselves around these roles for the first time and make discoveries some people miss who have known the pieces for years. “Seeing a production with young singers in it, you always find a fresh approach.”

Because Kagey has directed “Don Giovanni” several times, he used an existing set design that the theater department built. Getting that out of the way allows him to spend more time with the actors, he said.

He stuck to a simple set, which helps keep the performance flowing since there aren’t constant pauses to move sets, he said. The characters move quickly through the streets of Seville and in and out of houses. To do all of that with an elaborate set can slow the production down, he said.

Kagey, a freelance director and designer of operas, said he has been impressed by the caliber of the students and hopes the community will recognize what a boon it is to have a full opera production staged in Winchester.

“When you have an opportunity in a community the size of Winchester to see a live opera with a live orchestra in production, it is remarkable,” he said. “Considering today opera is so difficult to produce because it is so expensive, it is a really wonderful thing to have that in the community.”


Shenandoah Conservatory’s production of “Don Giovanni” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre. Ticket prices are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $10 for students and active military. Call the box office at 540-665-4569 or go to conservatoryperforms.org.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com