Nathan Gunn to make directorial debut, sing lead with Lyric Theatre at Illinois’ ‘Don Giovanni’

Nathan Gunn rehearses “Don Giovanni” with Jonathan Cortez, left, who will sing the part of Leperello, and Michael Tilley, at the piano, the music administrator for Lyric Theatre at Illinois. Gunn – a renowned opera singer as well as the general director of Lyric Theatre at Illinois and a University of Illinois voice professor – is making his directorial debut with “Don Giovanni.” He will also sing the lead role. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Opera singer and University of Illinois School of Music alumnus Nathan Gunn will make his directorial debut at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts with Lyric Theatre at Illinois’ production of “Don Giovanni” Feb. 22-25. In addition to directing, Gunn will sing the title role. It will be the first time he’s performed in an opera at Krannert Center since he was a University of Illinois student.

“Directing was always something I wanted to try, and this is the perfect place to do this,” said Gunn, who is a world-renowned opera singer, distinguished concert performer and Grammy Award winner, as well as the general director of Lyric Theatre at Illinois and a U. of I. Swanlund Chair professor of voice.

“It can provide a link between our program and other regional opera houses. It gives students a glimpse of the professional world,” he said. “And in a way, I’m learning about this the same as the students are learning.”

Nathan Gunn gestures as he discusses the performances of cast members. Gunn has specific ideas about the story of “Don Giovanni” that differ from the traditional interpretation of the opera. His production sets the opera in modern times, with Don Giovanni as a corporate raider. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

While Gunn now will be responsible for the final product – the lighting, the sound and the look of the set, as well as the performances – the task of directing the performers will be similar to what he already does when he is singing, in working with other cast members to experiment and figure out what works.

“It’s an extension of what I already do on stage. I have to pay attention, listen to everyone out there. Directing is bigger, but when it comes to the performers, it’s basically what I’ve been doing for the past 24 years,” he said.

Directing while singing the lead role in “Don Giovanni” is an even greater undertaking, though: “I don’t think anybody has done it before,” Gunn said.

Gunn’s vision for the production differs from the traditional interpretation of the opera.

“Everyone has an idea in their mind of the Don Juan story (that serves as the basis for this opera). I have very clear ideas of what I think the opera is about, which is a little bit different than what other people think,” he said.

In the opera – with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte – Don Giovanni is seen as a womanizer who murders the father of his childhood friend after raping her, beginning his descent into hell. His accuser is his manservant Leporello, who sings an aria cataloguing the vast number of women Don Giovanni has seduced. But, Gunn said, “none of the women accuse him. It’s always someone else saying he did it.

“I believe, from my experience with Mozart-Da Ponte operas, they never left anything to chance. Anything they left out is for a reason,” he said, noting that “Don Giovanni” was written at a time of social upheaval.

“Why is Leporello saying this? Is he trying to undermine the aristocracy from within? Essentially, the story is Leporello planting the seed that Don Giovanni’s a bad guy,” Gunn said.

His challenge was to portray Don Giovanni as a bad person but perhaps not guilty of everything of which he is accused. The Lyric Theatre at Illinois production at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts will tell the story in a modern way, with Don Giovanni cast as a corporate raider who destroys the business of the Commendatore, the father of Don Giovanni’s childhood friend. Gunn sets the death of the Commendatore as an accident, rather than a murder, and the rape that Leporello refers to is the destruction of the business.

The production depicts the women in the opera as having power and choice, “far more interesting” than one-dimensional portrayals, Gunn said. Don Giovanni’s wife, Elvira, is wealthy and has financed her husband’s business, for example.

Nathan Gunn rehearses “Don Giovanni” with some of the cast members at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Gunn, center, is with Michael Tilley, the music administrator of Lyric Theatre at Illinois, at the piano. The cast members are, counterclockwise from left, Jonathan Cortez, who will play Leperello; Euigun Lee, who will play Don Giovanni in one performance (doubling the role with Gunn); Xiaoyi Zha and Kevin Lucas, who will each play Masetto in different performances; and Laura Schachner (partially hidden) and Loucine Topouzian, who will each play Zerlina in different performances. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

The characters who are intent on destroying Don Giovanni use social media to spread information showing him to be a liar, narcissist, rapist and murderer.

“You get to decide, as an audience member, does the end justify the means?” Gunn said.

Gunn starred in a production of “Don Giovanni” last year in Vienna. He wanted Lyric Theatre at Illinois to do a Mozart opera, and this one “has great music, and we have the singers to do it,” he said.

In singing the title role, Gunn will be teaching by example. Each role in the opera is double-cast, so a student will also perform the role of Don Giovanni in one performance.

“I want the students to see what it is I do to get ready for the show. There are a lot of really cool possibilities for teaching them,” he said.

“It’s great to be able to bring an opera a couple of hundred years old to a modern audience. The story is relevant today.”


Source : Illinois News

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Nathan Gunn to make directorial debut, sing lead with Lyric Theatre at Illinois’ ‘Don Giovanni’