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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Christopher Schaldenbrand, left, and Gustav Andreassen in a scene from "Don Giovanni."

In Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Don Giovanni," the title character gets his just rewards.

After a life lived in dissolution and depravity, Don Giovanni, the Don Juan of legend and lore, is dragged off into the flames of hell after repeatedly refusing to save his soul by repenting his ways.

In Utah Opera's new production of Mozart's timeless masterpiece, which opens Saturday in the Capitol Theatre, stage director Nicolette Molnar takes a different approach. Hell is represented by seven masked women who, when they unveil themselves, are faceless.

"Don Giovanni feels that you can live without rules or obligations, but that doesn't work. Hell is (Don Giovanni) being himself. He can no longer escape from himself, and these mysterious women drag him off." People determine their own future, Molnar said.

Molnar discussed "Don Giovanni" recently with the Deseret News in Utah Opera's Production Studios. Joining her were baritone Christopher Schaldenbrand (Don Giovanni), mezzo-soprano Deanne Meek (Donna Elvira) and conductor Robert Tweten.

Masks, both real and imaginary, are an integral part of this production, Meek said. "In the late 18th century — the time of 'Don Giovanni' — everyone had to wear a 'mask.' You couldn't show your emotions, especially if you were a noblewoman like Donna Elvira."

"You hid behind a mask," Molnar said. "But, at the same time, wearing a mask was also liberating. Everyone in the production wears a mask or is disguised in some way." For Don Giovanni, his mask is that he isn't at all what he appears to be to the people around him.

Frequently, Don Giovanni is portrayed as an egomaniac without scruples or conscience, who doesn't let anything stand in his way. Schaldenbrand doesn't quite see him in that light, though.

"He isn't necessarily evil or mean. He is forced to be that out of necessity in the situations he gets himself into in the opera. He sees his destiny as fulfilling women, and his violent actions (killing the Commendatore and beating Masetto) are necessary in order not to be discovered."

That Don Giovanni has never killed a man until now is obvious. "He is shaken up after killing the Commendatore," Schaldenbrand said. "He hasn't killed anyone yet, but the Commendatore's death is the start of a series of events in the 24-hour period of the opera that lead to his downfall."

Tweten, who has conducted "Don Giovanni" several times, believes it to be Mozart's greatest opera. "The music is so powerful, you feel the emotions everyone is going through. The atmosphere is fantastic, because it's so rich and forceful."

As is the case with the other operas with librettos by Lorenzo da Ponte ("Le Nozze di Figaro" and "Cosi fan Tutte"), "Don Giovanni" deals with people refusing to follow the conventions of the time. "Don Giovanni represents man's rebellion against society and a complete abandonment of rules," Schaldenbrand said.

To a lesser degree, and with different motives, Donna Elvira is also a rebel. "She is deeply in love with Don Giovanni," Meek said. And she doesn't do anything to hide her true feelings. "She is a complex character. She shows compassion and tenderness, but also vitriol and rage. There is a lot of sensuality about her. Don Giovanni unlocked something deeply physical inside her. And that's how I play her."

To underscore the feeling of rebellion and consequent freedom the characters find themselves in, Molnar decided to set the opera in New Orleans shortly after the American revolution. "There are several reasons for that," Molnar said. "I wanted to keep it in the time period of 'Don Giovanni,' because it was a time when people were exploring ideas of freedom and challenging regimes. And someone from Spain would be intrigued by the sense of freedom found in the New World."

Also in the cast are bass Gustav Andreassen (the Commendatore); soprano Susanna Phillips (Donna Anna); tenor Ryan Macpherson (Don Ottavio); baritone Mark Schnaible (Leporello); bass Chad Sloan (Masetto); and soprano Shannon Kessler (Zerlina).

The Utah Symphony will play, and the opera will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.

If you go . . .

What: Don Giovanni, Utah Opera

Where: Capitol Theatre

When: Saturday, May 12, 14 and 16, 7:30 p.m.; May 18, 2 p.m.

How much: $10-$65

Phone: 355-2787 or 888-451-2787

Also: Opera preview lecture by Paul Dorgan, Salt Lake City Library Auditorium, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., free

Also: Question and answer session with Utah Opera artistic director Christopher McBeth, Founders Room, Mezzanine Level, Capitol Theatre, immediately following each performance, free

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com