Opera in Changing Times
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ross Crean
In 1787 Mozart introduced the world to Don Giovanni, a libertine and braggart, who spoke of his many conquests with pride particularly in the “catalogue” song in which he numbers his lady loves.
“640 women and girls in Italy, 231 in Germany, 100 in France, 91 in Turkey, but in Spain, 1,003” to be precise.
Luckily for audiences - spoiler alert - the finale includes Don Giovanni’s demise. Unluckily for those he wronged, the story is over.
Enter Ross Crean and Aiden K. Feltkamp. A composer and librettist duo who are giving the wronged Donna Anna and Donna Elvira the last word in their sequel to Don Giovanni.
“In the past all we’ve done is gloss over the fact that Don Giovanni makes many wrongs,” says Crean. “I feel like in The Times Are Nightfall we start to see the outcome of his immoral actions towards several people in the opera.”
In The Times Are Nightfall the events following Don Giovanni’s downfall are told from Anna’s perspective. Anna has a lot of healing to do in this sequel as she mourns both her father’s murder and her violation both of which were done by Don Giovanni.
#MeToo is definitely a theme throughout as we look at how these events affect the women and the aftermath of that, Crean says.
“It’s going to be a remarkable event,” notes director Amy Hutchison in a release. “The Times Are Nightfall is a compelling and beautiful micro opera, though there is nothing small about the rich characters and gorgeous melody throughout. You will experience all of the passion and power of opera up close, in a fabulously intimate space. Ross Crean has created in this sequel perhaps the first #MeToo opera.”
The Times Are Nightfall is making its Chicago premiere for just one weekend on August 17 and 18 in an engagement in the Buena Theater at the Pride Arts Center. Before the operetta comes a cabaret of LGBTQ+ musical works.
Feltkamp and Crean’s piece debuted on July 1 at the National Opera Center in New York City.
While the world of opera is changing all over, it’s changing at a different pace in different places. For Crean bringing a piece like The Times Are Nightfall from New York to Chicago, his home city, is a means of motivating that change.
“We see the landscape changing greatly in performances going on in New York,” Crean says. “In Chicago we are starting to make strides when it comes to contemporary opera performance and creation. I find it as my duty to help continue to broaden that landscape here.”
Crean’s duty does not stop there, however, as he also strides to show performance lovers that there is multiplicity to be found in all types of performance.
What people experienced in opera in the past is not “the be all and end all” of what is out there. There is so much more being done to expand and change the narrative, explains Crean.
Aside from new works being created it is also important to evaluate classical work. More importantly to examine it with a critical lens and not just accept what has been taught.
“There is an Aria in Don Giovanni that is called "The Catalogue Aria" where one of Don Giovanni lists all the women he has vetted. Even when I was in college we saw it as a comedic aria. We were told that it was a comedic aria. We are taught it is a funny presentation. But we look at it now and we see it is a list of all the women that he has used and the innuendo we get is that he has violated and left once he has slept with them.”
Whether or not other new operas will be born out of older pieces with problematic characters remains to be seen, but it is important to see the stories and the characters for what they are regardless of their age or position in the performance canon.
Even in the recent past this kind of toxic culture has been seen as something to be joked about or not taken seriously which isn’t okay and shouldn’t be tolerated, Crean says.
Crean adds, “I think in opera and theater in general all around we are starting to see a lot of past works as something that needs to be reevaluated and we are starting to make good progress.”
Ross Crean Presents: A Queer Engagement - An LGBTQ+ Cabaret and Opera Premiere, August 17 and 18th at 8 p.m. at Pride Arts Center - Buena Theater (4147 N Broadway). Tickets are $15 and available at eventbrite.com.