Category Archives: Guest post

‘1003 in Spain alone. Boy, and I thought I had a misspent youth!’

Don G. poster designed by Jose Llopis

(As part of the run-up to Mozart’s birthday tomorrow, I am delighted to share with you some reflections on Don Giovanni in today’s guest post from the esteemed Stephen Llewellyn, aka Operaman entitled “1003 in Spain alone. Boy, and I thought I had a misspent youth.”)

by Stephen Llewellyn

Don Giovanni is one of a small handful of operas that on any given day I am prepared to pronounce my favourite opera. Note that I am not suggesting that it is the greatest opera ever written. Not even that it is Mozart’s greatest opera (most people would, I think, accord that honour to Le Nozze di Figaro.) But it is a work I never cease to love and marvel at.

Why? Well, prima la musica (‘first the music and then the words’), of course. Whether it be the humour of ‘Madamina, il catalògo e questo’ (the pre-cursor to Arthur Sullivan’s patter songs perhaps), the sheer beauty of ‘Deh vieni alla finestra’ or that “exquisite waste of time” ‘Il mio tesoro,’ Mozart’s pen spewed tunes that still leave us trembling, smiling, and whistling.

(Here’s a charming clip of Simon Keenlyside singing ‘Deh vieni alla finestra.’)

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But that glorious music alone wouldn’t do it without Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto masterpiece which, when taken with the music, lays before us what seems like the whole of the human condition.  I can think of no writer, except Shakespeare, who manages to present the landscape of humankind before us, warts and all, without bitterness or judgement.

I suppose if you are an opera composer looking for a worldly-wise wordsmith who can get to grips with love, lust, chicanery, comedy, tragedy, life and death, you would be hard put to do better than Da Ponte. Born a Jew, converted to Roman Catholicism, took holy orders, seduced another man’s wife (with whom he had children), managed a whore house with her, ultimately fleeing to America where he became a grocer in Brooklyn before taking a post as the first professor of Italian literature at Columbia University. Yes, there was a man who knew life!

Don Giovanni's demise | c. New York City Opera

I could rattle on for pages on how each scene of the opera holds its own unique treasures but as space does not permit, let me jump to the ending.  What an ending! The Don is given the opportunity to admit the error or his ways and receive God’s – and our – absolution.  He’ll have none of it, preferring to remain true to himself and be damned.

Excuse me but I need to get online and see whether any company within a hundred miles of where I am sitting has plans to give us Don Giovanni any time soon. I am so there.

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About the Author: Stephen Llewellyn is a former barrister, an Internet luminary, an #Operaplot champion, an opera devotee, bon vivant, and a blogger of record for the Portland Opera Company. You can read more about him in this scintillating Operatoonity Q&A.

 

Editor’s Note: If you, like Operaman, have Don G. fever, you can visit Bachtrack.com at this link for the production playing (or soon to run) nearest you. Since Stephen is across the pond, he can also consult One Stop Arts to see what operas are playing in London these days. You’re in luck, Stephen. Don G. is at the ROH until Feb. 29.

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Filed under Classic Opera, Don Giovanni, Guest post, Mozart

an imagined cast list for Don Juan in Hankey, PA

Kimberly A. Bennett, poet

Editor’s note: This post is the fourth stop on the Eye-Popping, Jaw-Dropping, Gob-Smacking Blog Tour to launch my novel with an opera backdrop, DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA.

by Kimberly A. Bennett, guest blogger

I am going to start out a little serious here—but in no way is Don Juan in Hankey, PA meant to be a serious novel. It is populated with a madcap ensemble of characters looking for love, bent on bringing big-time opera to small-town, Hankey—it is bursting with outlandish plot snarls and tension-relieving plot twists—it is an entertaining ride.

However, I will be serious for a bit because I want to call attention to what might be overlooked—in fact, it took several days to pinpoint the element of Martin’s novel that had me wondering how she made me care what happened to each character.

Gale Martin’s skill with point of view reminded me of not another novelist, but the technique of another talented storyteller—Robert Altman, director of MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and more recently, Gosford Park. How so? Like Altman, Martin achieves what seems impossible—each character has his or her own starring role. While the narrative focuses on a character, while he or she is “on screen” I believe it is all about Deanna, or Richard, or his well-meaning phantom-wife, Mary. Martin’s dexterity with what critic David Jauss calls, “the locus of perception,” in his essay, “From Long Shots to X-rays: Distance and Point of View in Fiction,” enters us into the minds and hearts of her characters, so that we believe it is his or her story.

Deanna Lundquist, guild chair, as envisioned by the author

Without Martin’s skill with showing, not telling (she opens each chapter with a cleverly subtitled summary) her point of view technique would fall flat. Page after page, I watched on the “movie screen of my mind’s eye” the unfolding of events—one of my favorites finds two male characters in the wrong place at the wrong time, “in the raw,” in bed, and in the dark of night! From beginning to end, Martin keeps readers enthralled with her flawed, but loveable opera zealots.

Look at Gale Martin’s character photos to see how she envisions her cast, otherwise maybe you will agree with my imagined casting call using Gale Martin’s “cast of characters” with slight age alterations:

Julianne Moore as Deanna Lundquist

  • Deanna Lundquist, A Community Organizer and Socialite, Recently Divorced: Julianne Moore
  • Dr. Richard Rohrer, A Retired Physician and Widower: Jeremy Northam
  • Vivian Frantz Pirelli, The Heiress to the Frantz Ketchup Fortune, Famously Divorced: Naomi Watts
  • Oriane Longenecker, Hankey Native and Amateur Opera Singer: Emily Browning
  • Carter Knoblauch, Impresario born in Cincinnati: Bradley Cooper
  • Donato Bianco, Aging Professional Baritone Whose Star Has Lately Dimmed: Colin Farrell
  • Leandro Vasquez, A Dashing Professional Opera Singer of Dissolute Habits: Ben Stiller
  • Ben Stiller as Argentine baritone Leandro Vasquez

    Mary Rohrer, Richard’s Late Wife, A Ghost of Saintly Demeanor: Ellen Greene

  • Arnaud Marceau, Local Balloon Entrepreneur and Clairaudient Medium: Sam Rockwell
  • Maestro Schantzenbach, Diminutive Conductor of the Hankey Opera Company and Lover of Dachshunds: Gary Oldman
  • Paylor Frantz, Vivian’s Mother, a Lonely Widow: Bette White
  • Jeannie Jacobs, A Wealthy Widow, Originally from Hankey: Melanie Griffith
  • Donny of Donny’s Catering, A Metrosexual Caterer: Fred Armisen

 

Kim Bennett's book

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About today’s guest bogger, Kimberly Bennett: Kim is a poet and author of a poetic sequence, Soiled Doves, a series of historical poems set in a Seattle working-class brothel, c. 1910, now available on Amazon

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Filed under Guest post, opera and fiction, Opera and humor, opera challenges, Opera fiction