November 13, 2019

DON GIOVANNI Through the Ages

November 19, 2019

Did you know that Don Giovanni was Lyric Opera of Chicago's very first production in 1954? Here's a look at how this monumental Mozart opera has evolved over the years at Lyric.

1954: Giovanni Comes Calling

Lyric's first season opened with a calling card performance of Don Giovanni in November of 1954. The performance starred Nicola Rossi-Lemeni starring as Don Giovanni and Eleanor Steber as Donna Anna. The production was directed by William Wymetal and conducted by company co-founder Nicola Rescigno. Lyric would mount this same production again in 1959, with Rossi-Lemeni reprising the title role and Georg Solti (prior to his music directorship of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) taking charge of the podium.

Shown above: An ad proof from the Chicago Daily News and a costume photo of Nicola Rossi-Lemeni in character.

1961 & 1964: A New Production

In 1961, Lyric presented a new production of the opera with Wolfgang Weber as director and Peter Maag as conductor. Eberhard Waechter, who would later serve as intendant of the Vienna Volksoper and the Vienna State Opera, starred as Don Giovanni. The company revived the production in 1964, this time with Nicolai Ghiaurov in the eponymous role.

Shown above (clockwise from top left): Walter Berry (L) as Leporello and Lisa Della Casa (R) as Donna Elvira in the 1961 production; Nicoletta Panni (L) as Zerlina and Nicolai Ghiaurov (R) as Don Giovanni in 1964; and a wide view of the stage during Act 2 (of the 1964 production) when the Commendatore (Bruno Marangoni) confronts Giovanni.

1969: A Man of Many Talents

The multitalented Tito Gobbi both starred as Don Giovanni and directed this production, which featured sets and costumes by the legendary designer Peter J. Hall. Famed tenor Alfredo Kraus also reprised his 1964 role as Don Ottavio.

Left: Don Giovanni (Gobbi) attempts to seduce Zerlina, played by soprano Judith Raskin.

Right: Donna Anna (Claire Watson), Don Ottavio (Alfredo Kraus), and Donna Elvira (Ilva Ligabue) in disguise during the party at Don Giovanni's house

1980, 1988|89, & 1995|96: Reason for a Repeat

In 1980, the company mounted a new-to-Lyric production (originally from the Salzburg Festival) by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, one of opera's most acclaimed directors, set and costume designers. Ponnelle wore many hats for this production too, directing as well as designing sets and costumes which were characterized by their bleak tone and macabre imagery.

The production proved to be so popular that it was revived twice: first with Samuel Ramey as Don Giovanni in the 1988|89 season, and then with James Morris in the titular role and an up-and-coming Bryn Terfel as Leporello in 1995|96. Morris also appeared as Wotan in that same season as part of Lyric's first-ever Ring cycle.

Left (top to bottom): Richard Stilwell as Don Giovanni surrounded by his ladies of the night in the 1980 presentation; Samuel Ramey as the Don in 1988-89; Donna Elvira (Carol Vaness), Zerlina (Susanne Mentzer), Masetto (Roberto Scaltriti), Leporello (Terfel), Don Ottavio (Frank Lopardo), and Donna Anna (Luba Orgonášová) gesture towards the deceased Giovanni (James Morris) in 1988-89.

Right: Terfel (L) as Leporello and Morris (R) Giovanni sing together in the 1995-96 presentation.

2004|05: The Don Returns

For Lyric's 50th anniversary season, Bryn Terfel returned — this time as Don Giovanni. This new Lyric production, directed by Peter Stein, featured Susan Graham in her role debut as Donna Elvira. Karita Mattila starred as Donna Anna (with recent Ryan Opera Center graduate Erin Wall filling in for an ill Mattila on opening night), Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Leporello, and a young Kyle Ketelsen as Masetto. Christoph Eschenbach made his podium debut, with Sir Andrew Davis stepping in for a few performances.

Shown above (clockwise from top left): Graham as Donna Elvira; Leporello (D'Arcangelo), Masetto (Ketelsen), Zerlina (Bayrakdarian), Don Ottavio (Kurt Streit), Donna Anna (Mattila), and Donna Elvira (Graham) confront Giovanni (Terfel); Giovanni (Terfel) consoles Donna Anna (Mattila); Commendatore (Silvestrelli) drags Giovanni (Terfel) to hell.

2014|15: A New Don for a New Day

It was only fitting that Lyric's 60th anniversary season opened with a brand new production, with Tony award-winning director Robert Falls updating the original libretto by situating the characters in rural 1920s Spain. Mariusz Kwiecień played a dashing but devilish Don Giovanni while Ana María Martínez and Marina Rebeka starred as Donna Elvira and Donna Anna, respectively. Kyle Ketelsen returned, this time portraying Leporello. Andrea Silvestrelli gave a powerful turn as the Commendatore while Ryan Opera Center alumna Andriana Chuchman portrayed Zerlina. Music director Sir Andrew Davis conducted the production, set against the backdrop of Walt Spangler's stylish Spanish sets.

Shown above (clockwise from top left): Marina Rebeka as Donna Anna; Kyle Ketelsen (L) as Leporello and Mariusz Kwiecień (R) as Don Giovanni; a wounded Giovanni (Kwiecień) gestures as the Commendatore (Silvestrelli) lurks behind; Ana María Martínez as the fiery Donna Elvira, and Giovanni (Kwiecień) attempts to seduce Zerlina (Andriana Chuchman).

2019|20: Back and Better than Ever

Robert Falls' acclaimed production returns to Lyric's stage on November 14, with performances running through December 8. Experience Mozart's masterful tale of lust, revenge and one man's unchecked hubris. Featuring a stellar cast that includes Lucas Meachem (Nov. 14 - 30) and Davide Luciano (Dec. 3 - 8) as Don Giovanni, Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Donna Anna, Amanda Majeski as Donna Elvira, Ying Fang as Zerlina and Mika Kares as the Commendatore, Don Giovanni is sure to make Lyric Opera's 65th season intensely memorable.

Shown above (clockwise from top left): Donna Elvira (Majeski), Don Ottavio (Bliss), and Donna Anna (Willis-Sørensen) as masqueraders; Donna Anna (Willis-Sørensen) prays with Don Ottavio (Bliss); Don Giovanni (Meachem) sings "Fin ch'han dal vino," the famous Champagne Aria as Leporello (Rose) looks on; Masetto (Cedel) kisses his soon-to-be-wife Zerlina (Fang) in the town square.



Photo credits:
1954 - Lyric Opera of Chicago archives
1961 - Nancy Sorenson
1964, 1969 - David H. Fishman
1980, 1988|89 - Tony Romero
1995|96, 2004|05 - Dan Rest
2014|15 - Todd Rosenberg, Michael Brosilow
2019|20 - Kyle Flubacker


Filled with thrilling music and drama, including a finale so overpoweringly dramatic that it changed music forever, don't miss the high drama, the eye-popping costumes, and the ultimate retribution of this iconic classic.

Lyric production revival of Mozart’s Don Giovanni generously made possible by

Lead sponsor

The Negaunee Foundation


Howard L. Gottlieb and Barbara G. Greis

Nancy and Sanfred Koltun

Mazza Foundation