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Director Note
John de los Santos

The Dangerous Don Giovanni

For over two centuries, Mozart and Da Ponte’s version of the Don Juan legend has held audiences in its musical thrall while also feeding their innate voyeuristic desires. Only the truly resolute can avoid observing sin, both when committed and when (if) punished. The multitude of offenses in the opera range from mere annoyances and harmless fibs to acts of depraved selfishness that result in unforgivable misery and unrestful death. Just as Leporello’s catalogue of his conquests spills from page to page, so does the list of crimes enacted by the title rogue as he navigates his last hours on earth. But as compelling as the trespasses of our villain (or anti-hero?) are, his are not the only ones enacted for our entertainment. Every character in this dramma giocoso commits some questionable act, whether out of fear, greed, or as a survival tactic. The final difference is that only Giovanni dies for his deeds, while the rest all have to live with them.

This ancient dogma of sin and punishment led me to Dante’s Inferno and its nine circles of Hell as a starting point for the conception of Giovanni’s world. We’ve created a cylindrical domain with paths leading upwards, within, and reflecting downwards, indicating the proceeding and subsequent circles of torment. Every individual scurries around the cylinder, witnessing and participating in the atrocities, while only some commiserate. For the final confrontation with the Commendatore’s statue and epilogue, we’ve chosen to transport Giovanni to the ninth circle of Hell, reserved for the most treacherous offenders, including Lucifer. But in concordance with Dante, the deepest circle is not engulfed by flame, but impenetrable cold and ice. Regardless of where the damned wander in this hellish tundra, up or down, they are forever denied the warmth of salvation.

Before I conceived Giovanni’s punishment however, I needed to align him with a recognizable character prototype. Who can commit such horrors with seductive cunning and incontrovertible charm? Someone we love to hate, and vice versa. Less than three months after Don Giovanni premiered in Prague, George Gordon (Lord) Byron was born in London. The personal life of this esteemed poet gained him more notoriety than his writings. Byron’s 36 years of living were crowded with numerous marriages, affairs, conquests, and copious amounts of food, drugs, gambling, and violence. These addictions led to an endless pursuit of greater sensations, the same as our dastardly Don. Byron even composed his own version of Don Juan, which portrayed him as the victim to an array of voracious women. To me, Mozart’s Don Giovanni is accurately encapsulated as Lord Byron was by his lover, Lady Caroline Lamb. Both are “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

— John de los Santos
Director & Choreographer