Sex, Drugs and the highest form of art - In conversation with the team at BOpS behind Don Giovanni

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Ewan Thomas-Colquhoun on behalf of Epigram Arts talks with Beatrice Mae (Director) and David Jones (Don Giovanni) of BOpS’ forthcoming production Don Giovanni about modernising opera and the strengths of a new socially conscious interpretation of Mozart’s Classic.

this production of Mozart’s opera [is] perhaps the first ever to feature a lesbian couple at the centre of the plot.

‘The first thing you should know’- says Director Beatrice Mae as we sit down to chat, ‘is that our version [of Don Giovanni] is going to be very different to ones that have happened before. We have an entirely new libretto, and that’s really allowed us to play with the story,’ she explains, ‘-and characters,’ adds David Jones in agreement.

the ‘opera all starts at the law ball,’ a long way away from the Italian villages of the original.

Indeed, with the hashtag, #ModerniseOpera, Bristol operatic society have set themselves the unenviable goal of translating Mozart’s Don Giovanni, written in the 18th century, into a production fit for our contemporary world both in terms of setting and outlook.

If I can change even 10 people’s minds about the accessibility of opera, then I don’t mind aggravating a traditionalist

Having been ‘brought right up to date’, David’s Don Giovanni is a city lawyer rather than the rather pernicious nobleman of the original, and the ‘opera all starts at the law ball,’ a long way away from the Italian villages of the original.

The themes have been given a modern update also, a ‘wavy take’, which sees Don Giovanni spiral ‘into a chain of vices, alcohol, drugs, sex, even gambling is probably in there somewhere!’ creating a very modern anti-hero and a means to examine the damages of this behaviour- both to ourselves and others.

what we are doing empowers a movement that’s already there.

Perhaps the most notable change however, is the choice to replace the tenor part of Don Ottavio, with the female mezzo voicing of the newly invented character of ‘Octavia’. In doing so, making this production of Mozart’s opera perhaps the first ever to feature a lesbian couple at the centre of the plot.

‘I really love that there’s a lesbian power couple on stage, the story revolves around them in a way that it doesn’t in the original,’ says Beatrice. ‘The power balance this creates is really interesting and one that was very apt for a lot of the social campaigns going on at the moment… and I really wanted to use this show as a social commentary.’

Act I sitz underway! #opera #dongiovanni #bristol #theatre

A post shared by Don Giovanni BOpS (@dgbops) on

The social potential of this opera is indeed powerful, with a main character so ‘hedonistically driven’, as put by David, and in a position of wealth and influence as afforded by this modern reinterpretation it’s easy to see how the production can fit into the discourse of our post-Weinstein society. Whilst not directly inspired by these issues, both David and Beatrice see the opera as a great opportunity to add their own voices, literal and metaphorical to this debate. As David said, ‘They kinda collided, #MeToo happened right at the peak, but it was ok because we didn’t have to change anything we are doing, what we are doing empowers a movement that’s already there.’

The modernisation is about more than social commentary however, for Beatrice, having played an important part in producing a number of operas both within and outside the university, it seems a powerful method in encouraging interest in an art form that is clearly her passion. ‘If I can change even 10 people’s minds about the accessibility of opera, then I don’t mind aggravating a traditionalist. Opera needs younger people to be able to survive.’

Serving these two worthy purposes therefore, of inspiring interest in opera whilst simultaneously saying something about our modern society should make for a very interesting performance.

Don Giovanni is on from the 21st-24th of March in the Winston Theatre in the SU and tickets are on sale here.


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AUTHOR

Ewan Thomas-Colquhoun

Second year German and Russian student. Occasional contributor. All opinions are my own.

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