His conquests number in the thousands. His rap sheet includes murder. When it comes to bad boys, its hard to beat Don Giovanni.
Based on the legends of fictional libertine Don Juan, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Don Giovanni" is one of the most popular operas in the canon. Telling the story of a ladies' man who can seemingly escape any consequence except death, the opera mixes melodrama, comedy and the supernatural in this grim tale of redemption.
"It's one of the greatest operas ever composed," says Lillian Groag, director of the Virginia Opera production coming to town this weekend. "It was written by a genius, so it's immensely complicated."
Set in 18th century Italy, the opera opens as Don Giovanni has just attempted to seduce or rape yet another woman, Donna Anna. In the ensuing altercation, Don Giovanni, masked, kills Donna Anna's father in a sword fight and escapes. The episode is one that will come back to haunt Don Giovanni in ways he could never imagine.
Baritone Tobias Greenhalgh, who plays Don Giovanni, says his character is more focused on conquest than attraction in his dalliances. Noting that some interpretations portray Don Giovanni in a Mephistophelian light, Greenhalgh says Virginia Opera gone with a more appealing version.
"We've gone with the more charming, cheeky character," Greenhalgh says. "He's excessively charming at every point, so it's hard to dislike him even though he does such terrible things."
Compared to other roles he's portrayed, Greenhalgh says playing Don Giovanni requires a great deal of endurance.
"I'm onstage basically the entire first act with little, tiny breaks," Greenhalgh says. "There's just so many words to remember, so many costume changes."
Conductor Adam Turner says the show has appeal to seasoned opera veterans and newbies alike.
"Everybody gets kind of seduced by 'Don Giovanni,'" Turner says. "It's the perfect blending of tragedy and comedy in the way that only Mozart and librettist [Lorenzo] da Ponte could do at that period."
Calling the music "sublime," Turner says the score is fascinating in how Mozart uses the orchestra to add to the drama onstage, serving as a kind of Greek chorus to the action. For the singers, he says it's quite a workout, and remarks that Greenhalgh was recently named one of a dozen male singers to watch this season by Opera News magazine.
"The singing requires vocal pyrotechnics: leaps and bounds of Olympic athleticism," Turner says. "It's really difficult, and it requires truly masterful singers."
Playing Donna Anna, the woman who vows revenge on Don Giovanni at the beginning of the opera, soprano Rachelle Durkin says there's a reason this opera has secured its reputation.
"Both musically and dramatically, it's a really magnificent work," she says. "It's one of those operas that's very fast paced, and musically everything fits into place."
Discussing the opera's appeal, Durkin says its playboy protagonist is part of its draw.
"We always like a bad boy," Durkin says. "The story of this man who lives life on the edge, who gets his just desserts in the end, it appeals to us."
Groag, the director, says the opera's score is more familiar than some might believe.
"The tunes are all recognizable. People just don't know where they come from," she says. "It's some of the most iconic music in the world." S
Virginia Opera's "Don Giovanni" plays Nov. 16 and 18 at the Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St. For information, visit vaopera.org or call 866-673-7282.