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May 10, 2012

The Figaro Project finds a murder mystery in 'Don Giovanni'

Most opera-goers likely feel they have a firm grasp on the plot of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” — as firm a grasp as the one the opera’s antihero receives from an animated statue that drags him down to hell.

But maybe that’s not really how Don Giovanni, legendary roue (known in Spanish as Don Juan), met his demise. After all, who ever heard of a living statue?

That, at least, is the question being posed by The Figaro Project, an opera troupe that will unveil a new version of the Mozart classic this weekend.

“Who Killed Don Giovanni?” is the brainchild of ...

Caitlin Vincent, a Peabody Conservatory-trained soprano who founded The Figaro Project in 2009 as an outlet for young singers in the area and a means for trying out innovative presentations.

“I like ‘Don Giovanni,’” Vincent said, “but the ending is so anticlimactic. I never did buy the statue coming to life. What if that was just a lie to cover up the fact that Don Giovanni was murdered by one of the other characters?”

In the original opera, Don Giovanni, interrupted while pursuing Donna Anna, his latest female conquest, kills the woman’s father.

Don Giovanni is eventually pursued by Donna Anna, her boyfriend, Don Ottavio, and a woman Don Giovanni jilted, Donna Elvira. But it is a statue commemorating Donna Anna’s father who knocks at Don Giovanni’s door, sealing the rake’s fate.

There’s a tongue-in-cheek aspect to Vincent’s reworking of the plot — “We love opera, but it can be a little stodgy sometimes,” she said — and that’s a point driven home by an amusing YouTube commercial the company created.

The video clip -- see below; it's really cool -- introduces a terribly serious, if slightly bumbling, Inspector Lorenzo (baritone Nathan Wyatt), who will lead the investigation in the production.

“Who Killed Don Giovanni?” is “an opera within a play,” Vincent said. “All of Mozart’s music is intact, except the recitatives and the choruses — we don’t have a chorus. Our version starts at the end of the opera, and then there is a flashback, with interrogations in between. “

The new dialogue Vincent wrote will be delivered in English; the music will be sung in the original Italian.

Vincent will not give any advance hints on who might be collared for the crime.

“None of the characters is sympathetic,” she said. “They all have motives, and very good motives. Poor Don Ottavio is kind of a wimp. And Donna Elvira is kind of insane. Leporello [Don Giovanni’s servant] is the only one who witnesses the death, so I wouldn’t rule him out.”

The production, directed by William Schaller, will be modestly staged and costumed. There will be piano accompaniment by Ta-Wei Tsai. The cast includes Lydia Beasley as Donna Anna, Jessica Hanel Satava as Donna Elvira and Stephen Campbell. Blair Skinner will conduct.

“Our singers are just volunteer now,” Vincent said. “The instrumentalists get a small stipend. We don’t require a lot of money. And one thing I make sure is that we have all the money we need in advance; there’s no credit, no overstepping our bounds.”

That may explain why The Figaro Project has held on, while other nontraditional opera groups in Baltimore, including Opera Vivente, Chesapeake Chamber Opera and America Opera Theater, recently folded.

“We have a niche,” Vincent said. “One of the great things about Baltimore is that it is so offbeat, open to people being creative. It’s such an inviting environment to explore in.”

Past explorations undertaken by The Figaro Project have included cabarets (one was titled “Divalicious”) and the premieres of one-act operas by young composers. Next year will see another premiere, Joshua Bornfield’s “Camelot Requiem,” tied to the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.

Meanwhile, all the focus is on the death of devilish Don Giovanni.

“Some people go for the dark side when doing this opera,” Vincent said. “I’ve always thought it is hilarious — darkly hilarious. So we are emphasizing the quirky comedic side.”

Performances are Friday and Saturday at the University of Baltimore.


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:15 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Clef Notes


I like Max Frisch's version in Don Juan, or the Love of Geometry - Don Juan stages his own death to get away from women and their husbands in order to have more time to devote to geometry. The statue is played by a brothel owner. At the end of the play Don Juan discusses the play written about him by Tirso di Molina.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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