A man of wealth and privilege uses his position in society callously to manipulate and abuse others, with no concern for the emotional trauma he inflicts on his victims.
It’s a scenario that sounds like the latest, lurid scandal coming out of Washington, D.C., or Hollywood, or even Oklahoma City.
In fact, it’s a story that is more than two centuries old, one that composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte transformed into one of the greatest operas of all time, “Don Giovanni.”
“You don’t have to look very far to find examples of these things happening today,” said director Denni Sayers, who is overseeing Tulsa Opera’s production of “Don Giovanni.” “ ‘Don Giovanni’ may have premiered in 1787, but the story it tells speaks directly to the world today.”
This is the second time Sayers has directed a Tulsa Opera production; she made her company debut in 2017 with “The Pearl Fishers.”
The production is using sets and costumes that were created for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, which evoke Italy in the 1950s, rather than the traditional 18th century Spain.
“In some ways, it’s frustrating to work with an existing set because you would prefer to build up a show from scratch,” Sayers said. “But there is also the challenge to create something that seems completely new within these parameters that you’ve been given.”
For Sayers, that meant drawing inspiration from the Italian neo-realist films of that time, in particular the movies of Federico Fellini (“La Dolce Vita,” “Night of Cabiria,” “8½”) for the look and feel of the production.
But for the story and characters, Sayers preferred to explore some darker paths — namely, portraying the title character as a kind of psychopath.
Baritone Lucia Lucas is making her debut in the role of Don Giovanni, with Anthony Clark Evans as Leporello, Pamela Armstrong as Donna Elvira, Karlye Whitt as Donna Anna, Michael Gracco as Masetto, Michael St. Peter as Don Ottavio, Jana McIntyre as Zerlina and Hidenori Inoue as the Commendatore.
Conductor Andres Cladera, artistic director of Opera Steamboat and former associate conductor with Opera Colorado, will make his company debut leading the Tulsa Opera Orchestra.
“When you look at all the characteristics of a psychopath — cunning, manipulative, a total lack of concern for the feelings of others, except when they can be used to manipulate — Don Giovanni ticks all those boxes,” she said. “Don Giovanni is someone bent on pushing every sort of boundary as far as he can, in any way he can. He could care less about moral and social codes. He just wants to get everything he can, and he wants to be able to get away with it.”
One of the ironies of the opera is that, in spite of his best efforts, Don Giovanni is never able to consummate his romantic efforts, whether it is assaulting the sheltered Donna Anna or trying to seduce the peasant girl Zerlina while she is on her way to her wedding.
“In fact, the only action that Don Giovanni does complete is a murder — that of the Commendatore,” Sayers said. “And that’s what proves to be his undoing.”
While Don Giovanni appears in disguise in his first scene and his first words to the struggling Donna Anna are, “You will never know who I am,” one person who does know exactly who and what Don Giovanni is, is Donna Elvira.
“The way I see it,” Sayers said, “the two of them had three amazing nights together, and now, Donna Elvira will not give him up — even though it means that she has to live more or less as an outcast of society. But she believes she can change him, and that’s her tragedy.”