Seduction at the opera

The cast of Don Giovanni rehearses for Asheville Lyric Opera’s 15th anniversary production. Photo by Jonathan Ross

When David Malis was invited to direct Asheville Lyric Opera’s season opener and 15th anniversary production, Don Giovanni, he was determined to accept. So determined, in fact, that he made arrangements to take leave from the University of Arkansas — where he is a voice professor and director of opera— and promptly headed east The curtain will open on the two-act opera on Friday, April 4.

On his 14-hour drive to Asheville, Malis had plenty of time to reflect on his directorial objectives.

“There are a lot of famous European directors who shock the audience for publicity,” Malis says. And in a production like Don Giovanni, the story of a nefarious seducer based on the legendary Don Juan, there is ample opportunity to do just that. Instead, Malis’ intention is to focus on humanizing the characters. “Don Giovanni is not an attractive human being, but he truly believes in what he says and wants the women he pursues to benefit from what he has to offer them,” Malis says. “He’s unrepentant until the end because he doesn’t see anything to repent about.”

Seemingly the ultimate narcissist, Don Giovanni regularly clashes with the cast of characters. “His right-hand man is torn; he wants to make a living but almost gets killed calling his boss out,” Malis says. “Donna Elvira is the woman who steps in. She’s madly in love with Don Giovanni and wants him to change his ways. She’s the fly in the ointment; partly because of her, he never consummates a relationship.”

“Giovanni takes advantage of all of their vulnerabilities,” adds David Starkey, general and artistic director of ALO. “He appears powerful, but his complex weakness is he has hardened himself to the kindness of man.”

The gripping and at times comic story is intensified by music composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Starkey was especially excited about bringing Mozart to the stage. “Don Giovanni requires a unique balance,” says Starkey. Mozart is known for his ensemble-based compositions, “And here, he’s weaving six singers together at the same time but all with an individual opinion or position.”

ALO presented Don Giovanni in 2007, but Starkey guarantees a fresh interpretation. “We designed a set that will fill all corners of the stage, and yet new places will be revealed where the audience thinks there’s no room left.”

At the first rehearsal, Malis intends to explore who the actors are as people and give them the best opportunity to relate to each other. “The drama is found within the words, the way people relate on stage,” says Malis. “It’s created anew each time you do it.”

“Audiences thrive on intimate experiences,” adds Starkey. “The Diana Wortham Theatre is like opera in your living room.”

The production will have the added weight and importance of being ALO’s 15th anniversary celebration. Malis credits ALO’s longevity and success to Starkey. The two first worked together when Malis performed with the ALO in its inaugural season as a singer and in subsequent productions as both a singer and director.

“When I arrived in Asheville 18 years ago,” Starkey says, “it was just growing into the vibrant, creative place we call downtown.”

Just as Asheville has changed, ALO hopes to change along with it. The anniversary production marks the launch of the opera company’s “Grand Vision,” with the goal of cultivating deeper community support. “In the life cycle of a performing arts organization, you re-evaluate every five years,” Starkey says. “We took the time to examine ourselves and brought in consultants at the local and national level to look at every aspect of the company starting two or three years ago.”

The vision includes a summer arts program, administrative internships and special preview dress rehearsals to give students access to a professional opera. ALO also hopes to play a major role in the economic development of Asheville as a performing arts destination, says Starkey.

“Asheville’s lucky to have this; they don’t have to fly to New York or Chicago to see great opera,” Malis says. And Malis knows his opera. The director has performed at The Metropolitan Opera, Teatro Colòn in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the Thêàtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. He is also a past winner of the prestigious Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The cast members boast similarly impressive resumes. Malis will work alongside nationally acclaimed artists, including maestro Scott Schoonover. Galen Scott Bower performs as Don Giovanni and Kathy Pyeatt as Donna Elvira. Jonathan Ross will lend his vocal talents, as well as local star Dominic Aquilino. Debuting with ALO are Grant Knox (director of lyric theater at Furman University), international soprano Kristin Vogel and Washington, D.C.’s leading opera soprano, Randa Rouwehya.

what: Asheville Lyric Opera presents Don Giovanni
where: Diana Wortham Theatre,
when: Friday, April 4 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 6 at 3 p.m. $30-$58.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Toni Sherwood
Toni Sherwood is an award-winning filmmaker who enjoys writing articles, screenplays, and fiction. She appreciates the dog-friendly, artistic community of Asheville.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.