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Q&A w/ Pittsburgh Opera ‘Don Giovanni’ Director Kristine McIntyre

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Pittsburgh Opera and director Kristine McIntyre gives Mozart’s Masterpiece ‘Don Giovanni’ a stylish film noir look. Don Giovanni is a charming nobleman, serial womanizer, and sexual predator, as the list of people out to get him grows longer, eventually his misdeeds are bound to catch up with him. Leaving a trail of broken hearts, and worse, wherever he goes. He has his servant, the reluctant doormat Leporello, keep a journal of Don Giovanni’s many romantic conquests. Completely without morals or conscience, Don Giovanni sexually assaults Donna Anna, then kills her father the Commendatore, who had tried to come to her defense. He seduces young Zerlina on her wedding day. But all actions have consequences, as Don Giovanni is soon to learn. 

How did you first find inspiration for your production of Don Giovanni in film noir?

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I love film and am very interested in the ways in which both film and opera tell stories through visual imagery and through music. I’m always looking for ways to make older European opera more immediate and visceral for an American audience. And Don Giovanni is a piece that has intrigued and puzzled me for a long time – how to deal with his character. Thinking about anti-heroes in an American context, it wasn’t too hard to see that noir might provide an answer.

What effect do you expect this more modern version of a classic to have on audiences?

I hope that audiences will immediately recognize the characters and understand who they are, based on these noir tropes that we all kind of know. Even if you can’t list the attributes of film noir, chances are you know what it looks like and feels like: you know who a femme fatale is, that the young girl is in danger when she meets the anti-hero, that the characters are kind of helpless to change the course of the action. Also, Don Giovanni is an incredibly violent opera, but that sense of violence and danger somehow gets dulled when everyone is running around in velvet capes and feathered hats with pretty swords in their hands. Take that sword and make it a snub-nosed .38 and you begin to get the sense of what we’re really dealing with.

How did you deal with the power dynamics of the male and female characters in the cast?

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So the great thing about noir is that some women have power – sexual power – and aren’t afraid of using it. By making Elvira the femme fatale, rather than the crying victim, we immediately change the power dynamic in the opera. Suddenly, Giovanni has a real foil and he has to work much harder. His success is not a given. It also gives me an opportunity to differentiate the women. Donna Anna is the true victim – her life has been torn apart and we share her journey through grief and acceptance. Zerlina, then, is that young girl in a noir film who crosses the anti-hero’s path. You want to scream “run” but at the same time, you can’t fault her for being interested. In many ways, she’s the one who gets to make a choice about what kind of woman she wants to be when she grows up, and she does grow up in the course of the story. I think this noir concept also helps the men – especially Ottavio, who can seem dull in a more traditional setting. Given the powerlessness of the good characters in a noir film, you can see Ottavio as a good man caught in a terrible situation – he knows the police won’t be any help, and he’s doing his best to navigate some very dangerous waters.

What are you most excited for Pittsburgh audiences to experience through this production?

I can’t wait for Pittsburgh audiences to experience the shock of something both new and instantly recognizable – how we’ve taken a story we all think we know and told it in a way that feels very modern and totally fresh. That’s how Mozart and DaPonte’s audience would have felt. And the show looks just great – there will be so much to look at, and you’ll recognize it and totally understand the world we’ve created. Even skeptical audiences in other cities have told me that they now can’t imagine the opera any other way.

What are your favorite things to do when you’re in Pittsburgh?

I love just wandering around the Strip District – breakfast at Pamela’s (if I can get in!) and great coffee and Italian delicacies I can’t find at home in Portland, Oregon  – I’m half Italian so that makes me very happy. Add a trip to the Warhol and the Mattress Factory and that’s a great day off.

“An irresistible classic, Mozart’s Don Giovanni seamlessly combines comedy and tragedy with one of the great musical scores of all time to create one of the world’s favorite operas. 
As always, English subtitles will be projected above the stage. 

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Christina Jeter

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