A Conversation with Director Robert Falls
Don Giovanni, Mozart’s complex and brilliant dramatic comedy, brought Lyric into the world in 1954.
Also born that year: Robert Falls, artistic director of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre since 1986. He’s acclaimed internationally for his brilliantly imagined stagings of iconic plays, and has been winning best-director Jeff Awards since he was a college senior. Triumphs in Shakespeare, Brecht, O’Neill, Williams, Miller, Mamet, and more have followed, along with multiple Tony Awards. Previously here Falls staged Floyd’s Susannah (Renée Fleming’s Lyric debut) and Menotti’s The Consul.
Which brings us to Don Giovanni.
“The score is absolutely glorious – it’s an extraordinary work of genius,” Falls raves. “As with Shakespeare’s plays, the libretto is pulled from several sources – da Ponte even stole plot points from contemporary operas. Don Giovanni is an open-ended work, in the same way that Measure for Measure, Hamlet, and The Tempest are. The challenge and joy is to explore the tone of the piece, which Mozart called a dramma giacoso. With its extreme tonal shifts between broad comedy, great wit, and disturbing behavior on everybody’s part, it’s very dramatic but it’s certainly not a tragedy. It opens with murder and closes with Giovanni going to hell – it resembles a modern black comedy, not unlike Breaking Bad! Giovanni lives purely in the moment with no sense of consequences. It’s an essentially modern narrative.”
No wonder Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, invited Falls to create a fresh take on Mozart’s masterpiece for Lyric’s 60th anniversary season. “I’m experienced in the world of Shakespeare, not Mozart, though Mozart was a great admirer of Shakespeare,” Falls notes. He’s excited to collaborate “with this company of extraordinary singing actors, to reinvestigate the work moment to moment, to explore its psychology, to not take for granted things that everybody may take for granted about the story.” He’s met with most of the cast “to pick their brains. They know this music. They’re the greatest singers in the world. They’re a very attractive, sexy company of singing actors. That allows us to explore the sexuality and some of the darker elements as well as the comic elements in a very fresh way.”
Falls creative team comprises set designer Walt Spangler and costume designer Ana Kuzmanic, his principal design collaborators since 2006, and lighting designer Duane Schuler, with whom he worked on his previous Lyric productions. Lyric’s Music Director Sir Andrew Davis will conduct. Falls firmly believes that, “The world my designers and I have created will allow audiences to see the piece with fresh eyes while maintaining the terror and the beauty, the craziness of this opera, in the best sense. I hope they look forward to experiencing this piece they think they’re familiar with in an invigorating new take.”