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2018.05 Interview, Geneva Opera

Interview with Geneva Opera

May 2018

“Don Giovanni, Victime de l’Amour”

“Don Giovanni, Victim of Love”

 

Link to original article in French

 

Interview with Simon Keenlyside about “Don Giovanni”

by Tania Rudigliani, Grand Théâtre de Genève, 7 May 2018

Translated by Gudrun

How many times have you interpreted Don Giovanni?

SK: That’s a good question! (laughs) At least 250 times. But the question is to know how many times I have succeeded in paying homage to the geniuses of Mozart and Da Ponte? Not even a hundred times …

Has your view of the role changed?

SK: I’m not the same singer I was 20 years ago, neither with regard to my physical appearance, my voice nor my view of the world. This is reflected in my view on the work. Each new interpretation allows me to discover unexpected aspects. Working with different directors, colleagues or conductors changes my acting and singing. With this in mind, I find that each performance is a new adventure, a high wire act among the different energies on stage and in the pit. If there are thousands of possible combinations for a lock of four numbers, how many combinations are there for an opera of several hours, eight main protagonists and dozens of musicians?

How would you describe Don Giovanni?

SK: To conjure up a Mozart character it is necessary to speak about the context of the composition. At that time, Europe became aware of new concepts of freedom and civil responsibility. Don Giovanni is nothing else but a tool to tackle these topics: freedom and its abuse. European society wanted to break loose from the pre-established order and outdated cultural views.

You cannot reduce the role of Don Giovanni to a mere seducer, this is just the surface.

Donna Anna, victim or a woman with character?

SK: Can a woman not be both one and the other? In this opera, all female roles have an individual character and the music reflects this individualization. This gives them a dimension that goes beyond the score, as if the audience were faced with real people with unexpected and unpredictable reactions, in particular when confronted with Don Giovanni’s catalogue of abuse.

What role does seduction play in Mozart’s opera?

SK: The catalogue aria, sung by the servant Leporello, of course praises the conquests of his master, the alleged great seducer. However, it is interesting to note that Don Giovanni never succeeds, in spite of his numerous attempts. His techniques of seduction turn out to be very poor. Despite his education and his money, Don Giovanni remains a brute without any class. At the end you see that the questions of power and the abuse of privileges gain the upper hand and determine the work. That’s what makes it interesting today: Every day you can find “Don Giovannis” in the newspapers.

Your top memories of Geneva?

SK: I have marvellous memories of my previous stays in this city. In 1993-94 I interpreted my first Papageno here, next to René Pape. In that production, the legendary director Benno Besson had a great influence on my view of the role. In 1996-97, I had the opportunity to sing the title role of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet, next to Natalie Dessay, an incredible artist. But above all Geneva is a very inspiring place because of its impressive surroundings, its lake, its mountains and its forests.

 

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