Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Though the picture above of the San Francisco Bay in late July looks straight out of Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman," in truth it was the setting at Fort Mason for rehearsals of the Merola production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" at the Cowell Theatre.
My entrance into the beauty of opera was through a production of "Don Giovanni" I saw at the San Francisco Opera in the mid-1970s with a cast I don't even remember. It wasn't the first opera I'd ever seen but it was the first one that struck me physically and spiritually as a "eureka" moment on the order of "My god, this art form is great. I had no idea."
I have long wanted to see "Don Giovanni" in a small opera house, which is what it was written for, rather than the huge barns of San Francisco or Chicago or New York, which are perfect for "grand opera" but not really ideal for most 18th century operas.
By chance, I have ended up getting to be inside a perfect, small production of "Don Giovanni" for the last three weeks as a non-singing actor instead of just watching it, which has felt like an unexpected blessing.
The San Francisco Opera has a summer training program that functions a bit like a minor league baseball team, where young athletes/singers learn their trade for little to no money and get funneled into a career path based on their god-given gifts and their teachers' estimation of their abilities.
The crew assembled for this "Don Giovanni" has obviously been cherry-picked because they are all tremendously good young singers, and watching them being directed by the legendary diva Catherine Malfitano has been a master class in itself.
Hearing a pick-up chamber orchestra tackle Mozart in a small theatre with a very good conductor and musicians is also an amazing experience...
...and to top it all off, I have been given a wig for our peasant scene that the preeminent wig master Richard Battle pronounced, "looks like your own hair, it's perfect" which of course makes one feel outrageously sexy. So does the opera, with its dark distillation of sensuality and humor and death.