This past weekend, the Ball State Opera Theatre presented a production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Dr. Jon Truitt, director of opera and associate professor of voice, writes about the production.

I’m the opera director at Ball State and we’re really pleased to have our production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni premiere this Friday (March 29 at 7:30 PM) and Sunday (March 31 at 2 PM) in Sursa Hall. Every production for our opera program is unique in its own way and this one has had its own set of joys and challenges in bringing it to life.

As part of our overall mission, Ball State Opera Theatre (BSOT) tends to produce productions with mostly traditional elements so that students are prepared for that type of work in “real life”. At the same time, we also want to present a unique production that stands on its own and not a “cookie cutter” piece that just repeats what has been done many times before. Our production grows from the opera having a certain “mashup” quality about it that has many elements of comedy standing right next to quite heightened dramatic and supernatural elements. If you don’t know much about the opera you can check out the overall plot of the story here.

For this telling of the story we heightened the element of the supernatural by having living student “Statues” posed onstage in different positions for the entire show. It’s a lot of work for the students doing it (for sure!) but the effect really pays off when they come to life at the end as part of Giovanni’s punishment. I used these same costumes in a professional production of the opera in St. Louis a few years ago, so it’s great to see them again here in our university production. We also updated the period of the opera to the mid-19th century so the costumes had a looser feel and a richer color palate than a traditional 18th century setting.

Much of the opera occurs at night in colder colors so the actors wearing deep warm colors look great in contrast. We’re also, over the long run, working to constantly up our “tech” game, so for this show we have a dedicated lighting designer (an improvement over me doing it) named Rachel Hemm who’s done a truly fabulous job on that in addition to helping with the overall technical design of the scenery as well.

As you watch the show, you should try to think of it as three different operas that crash into each other occasionally. First, there’s “Zerlina”, the romantic comedy about a young couple whose wedding plans get messed up by a dashing nobleman. That opera is about the maturing of the couple’s relationship. Second, there’s “Donna Anna”, which is a passionate drama about a woman who’s assaulted and whose father is murdered all in one day by a mysterious stranger. That opera is a quest for justice as they discover the attacker’s identity as well as a process of overcoming the impact of the tragedy on Anna’s relationship with her fiancé Ottavio.

Finally, “Don Giovanni” is the overarching story of a serial abuser of women, his sidekick, and his former lover Don Elvira that occasionally intersects with the other two operas. This dramatic layout makes for lots of fun directing challenges as the piece swings from broad comedy to really serious drama in seconds. We highlight this by large changes in lighting and mood to suit the situation, for example.

If you missed the production, you can watch a stream of the opera here.

-Dr. Jon Truitt, director of opera