Opera Idaho Shines Modern Spotlight on the Legend of Don Giovanni 

"An audience has no choice but to relate what's happening on stage to what's happening in the world."

Andrew Nienaber (left), director of Opera Idaho's Don Giovanni, along with co-stars Marina Harris (center) and Kyu Won Han (right).

George Prentice

Andrew Nienaber (left), director of Opera Idaho's Don Giovanni, along with co-stars Marina Harris (center) and Kyu Won Han (right).

Aside from whatever else Don Giovanni has meant to the art world since Mozart unleashed its power in 1787, its story, based on the notorious legend of Don Juan, has been a dramatic wellspring for the ages. Its themes of abusive sexual power, deception and revenge can be traced from its 18th-century debut to today's procedural crime dramas on network television.

"I recall reading an article, and even hearing a podcast, about the TV show Law and Order SVU and how victims of sexual assault are attracted to the show because they're allowed to tell their stories. They're listened to, they're believed and they get justice. In essence, that encapsulates what happens in Don Giovanni," said Director Andrew Nienaber, whose 2018 production of Don Giovanni brings the show back to Opera Idaho for the first time in nearly two decades. "The assault victims that we see in the show tell their stories, they're heard, they're believed and, in the ultimate justice of all, Giovanni is dragged to hell for his crimes."

Nienaber started planning for Don Giovanni with the company's General Director Mark Junkert this past spring, building a cast of 40 performers, many of them favorite artists from Junkert's first 10 seasons at Opera Idaho. More importantly, Nienaber recognized that his particular production, set in the present day, would be performed in the shadow of the #MeToo movement.

"An audience has no choice but to relate what's happening on stage to what's happening in the world," said Nienaber. "But this is not presented, in any way, as political or partisan. The entire cast and crew of this production are making a statement that sexual assault is horrible, people who do it are bad people, and they deserve to go to hell."

New York City-based soprano Marina Harris co-stars as Donna Anna, a victim of Don Giovanni and one of opera's most fully realized female characters.

"In this moment, I've felt more comfortable in coming forward to say that I'm a victim of sexual assault. It's an interesting challenge, because there's a certain amount of my own experience that I can bring into this, and there's a certain amount that I have to just leave at home," said Harris. "It makes it incredibly difficult and challenging; but I also feel that it's important, at this moment, to take a strong stance and allow people to have those conversations in the car on their way home and relate it to their own lives, and their wives, sisters and daughters."

Kyu Won Han, who dazzled Idaho audiences in 2017's Tosca and 2014's Carmen, returns to Opera Idaho in the title role of the hell-bound Don Giovanni.

"I feel very much at home with this opera company. I was working here a year ago when Mark Junkert mentioned they might produce Don Giovanni. Mark said they wanted to do something special. It means a lot to me because Don Giovanni was the very first opera in which I performed as a professional," said Han. "It's my third time here in Boise, but my prior appearances were at the Morrison Center. I'm very excited about singing, this time, in the Egyptian Theatre."

Harris, who made her Opera Idaho debut in 2015's Evgeny Onegin, calls the Egyptian "the ideal-size theater" for opera.

"You're able to really connect with your audience at The Egyptian," she said. "When I performed at The Egyptian, it taught me a lot about the people of Boise and their appreciation for the arts. It's something we don't always have in big cities. Coming here is a wonderful experience."

In fact, The Egyptian Theatre has a unique connection to Don Juan, the fictional libertine and source material for Don Giovanni. When it opened in 1927, the oldest theater in Boise chose the silent film of Don Juan as its inaugural movie. And while Don Juan has inspired everything from The Phantom of the Opera to Ingmar Bergman's The Devil's Eye, its strongest connection is still to the legendary opera.

"There's a definite responsibility in bringing Don Giovanni to this season," said Nienaber. "Mozart and [librettist] Lorenzo da Ponte have written a piece that is psychologically rich, yet displays a very modern sensibility about people, personalities and behavior. I feel we have a responsibility to honor that. Every choice that we made honors that."

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