Lyric Theatre’s ‘Don Giovanni’ ‘the right time’ for Gunn’s directorial debut

Feb 2018

I am so invested in the students having success and leaving this experience with a new love for Mozart and his operas that I'll do everything I can during this process to make that happen.

Nathan Gunn, speaking with Paul Wood (The News Gazette)

Grammy Award-winner Nathan Gunn, the general director of Lyric Theatre at Illinois and University of Illinois Swanlund Chair professor of voice, has a new role, directing Mozart’s story of cruel seducer “Don Giovanni.” Staff writer Paul Wood chatted with Gunn about the opera, with a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. He’s also alternating performances in the lead role.

How many times have you sung ‘Don Giovanni’? I’m guessing quite a few, including your Vienna performance last year?

The Vienna performances were the best by far. It was a production by Keith Warner, a brilliant director from the U.K. Surprisingly, though, it was only the second production I’d done. There were quite a few opportunities to play the man, but it never seemed to fit in my schedule.

You’re a nice guy. How do you channel this evil man?

The interesting thing about Don Giovanni is that he doesn’t consider himself to be evil. He needs the attention of women or “he will die.” Since I’m not a conductor, I thought it might be an excellent instructional tool to be on stage with the students. Of course, this creates many challenges, not the least being how to play the part of a psychopath and still be supportive and a source of comfort to the kids while they are singing. We seem to have worked through that and have fostered a trust that would otherwise be impossible were it not for me going into “the mouth of the wolf” (in bocc’ al lupo) with them.

What made you decide you wanted to direct for the first time?

(My wife) Julie had been pushing me on this for a number of years. “Don Giovanni” is an opera that probably has the most bad productions done of it and I thought it was the right time for me to create a show that tells a story, albeit less vulgar, which gets to the heart of what Da Ponte and Mozart were trying to say.

Read the full interview here.