RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Don Giovanni (Daniel Okulitch, center) prepares for his party, in Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of "Don Giovanni."
Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' may be the best opera ever written
Any story in which the main character seduces thousands of willing women and then boasts of this feat and, as a result, is sucked directly down into hell, well, that's a lot of entertainment value. Mozart wasn't piking when it came to troweling on the genius in "Don Giovanni" -- the first draft was done the day before it premiered, and he kept adding so many bits that no opera company performs it all.
On stage: 8 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $29 to $120
And it's funny! Not Three Stooges/Da Bruddahs ha-ho, but funny in an arch, philosophical, 18th century kind of way. Gracious, how amusing, how precious! That Mozart could sure hammer out the tunes.
Brooding Danish philosopher Kierkegaard declared flatly that "Don Giovanni" was the greatest work of art ever produced by mankind. And as Hawaii Opera Theatre general and artistic manager Henry Akina points out, it's a theater truism that dying onstage is easy, but comedy is hard.
Akina, our own opera director when we aren't sharing him with Berlin, is directing HOT's new production of "Don Giovanni."
Here it is in a nutshell: Don Giovanni -- you know him as Don Juan, that scandalous rake -- plows through womanhood, one conquest after another. That is, until the ghost of the lovely and forsaken Donna Anna's father, the Commendatore, appears. Seems Don Juan/Giovanni killed him awhile ago.
The Commendatore offers Juan/Giovanni one last shot at redemption, but no, he will not change his wicked ways. Bad choice? The spirits come and drag this dog into Hades, where he goes to bed alone. Juan is the loneliest number.
"It's kind of unique, and yet so influential," explains Akina. "It's very funny, but at the same time it's almost like Shakespearean history -- there's a depth to the comedy. The best comedy is very insightful. Tragedies can wallow in sadness, stay at that level. But comedies have to be human, with ups and downs. It gives the performers more business with comedic timing as well. They can't just sing.
"Mozart put a lot of musical detail into it, very interesting properties, stuff that creates endless variations of interpretation. It's not just a story of a man and a woman -- or lots of women -- but a tale of many people affected by someone with a huge personality.
"How evil is he? Not that simple. Don Giovanni is a character that touches everyone else in the story, a larger-than-life personality -- sort of like Falstaff, a central, catalyzing figure, to whom the music gives emotional force."
The vehicle of music is the proper mechanism to express such nuances, said Akina. And Mozart broke a lot of ground in his construction of the work, including the use of repetitive leitmotifs to nail down character. "Many composers are affected by Mozart's opera," said Akina. "There aren't many operas written in ignorance of 'Don Giovanni.'
"Mozart was always a quick worker, and a quick tinkerer. ... 'Don Giovanni' debuted in Prague, and by the time it got to Vienna, it was revised, with a whole epilogue added. Most companies leave out a scene or two; ours is the standard way of doing it, with the big-finish epilogue. Mozart wrote the first big finish for an opera -- a spectacle that's huge, simple and striking."
Are we laughing or applauding at the end?
"There is repartee that is quite funny, of that era," said Akina. "But some of the production is quite frightening. That's the trick -- to wander that edge, and not fall off."