One benefit in heading the orchestra department at a university is the prospect of conducting a broad variety of music. And that makes Brigham Young University's Kory Katseanes very happy.
"One of the highlights of my career here is the opportunity to do opera," he said in a phone interview.
Since his appointment to direct the school's orchestras, Katseanes has conducted a large number of operas, including Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" and Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata."
And beginning Saturday, Mozart is once again on the program, this time his incomparable take on the Don Juan legend, "Don Giovanni."
"This is absolutely one of his greatest operas," Katseanes said. "It has fewer famous arias than 'The Marriage of Figaro,' but it's easier to listen to. It flows and flows like it's never going to stop."
Katseanes feels that Mozart's true genius came through in his operas. "In 'Don Giovanni,' and in all of his late operas, the music is multidimensional. The characters are revealed in the music."
And the music also tells the singers how to approach their roles. "It teaches the singers how to act," he said. "It's a looking glass through which you see the characters."
When the Deseret News spoke with him, Katseanes had just started to work with the cast. And as fate would have it, it was the week when the great baritone Sherrill Milnes was on campus holding master classes. Milnes, for whom the title character in "Don Giovanni" was one of his signature roles, worked with the singers the entire time he was at BYU.
"This was a nice opportunity for the students," Katseanes said. "Talk about a personality. Having him next to me talking to the students and singing along the whole time was just an amazing experience."
Katseanes' colleague in the music department, Lawrence Vincent, is once again stage directing. An opera singer who spent his career in Austria and Germany, Vincent has been giving the young singers invaluable advice during rehearsals, Katseanes said. "I really admire Larry and his experience. He knows how to teach these kids. He shows them how they need to use their voices in telling the story, and how to act."
As with all BYU opera productions, "Don Giovanni" is double cast. Some of the singers were in last year's production of "The Marriage of Figaro," and Katseanes is glad to have them back.
"They are noticeably better," he said. "I don't know if it's because they're working with Mozart again, or maybe because they're a year older. But everyone's Italian is going very well, and the recitatives are ripping by. These kids have been working very hard."
Katseanes is impressed with his young cast. "We have some wonderful young voices. It's been easy to work with them, and it's been a lot of fun. They come to the rehearsals prepared. I don't have to worry about them."
It's a little different for the orchestra, however, Katseanes admitted. "Right now we're working on three different programs at once. After we rehearse the other programs and finally get to the opera, we get in and start pedaling fast."But Katseanes has a lot of confidence in his musicians. "Opera is hard for students, because it requires a higher level of concentration. But they're fast learners and good players. Every time we do an opera, they come out of the pit twice the orchestra as when they went in."
If you go ...
What: Mozart's Don Giovanni
Where: De Jong Concert Hall, Harris Fine Arts Center, Brigham Young University
When: Saturday and Oct. 21, 7 p.m. (dress rehearsals); Oct. 22-25, 7 p.m. (performances)
How much: $10 dress rehearsals; $16-$20 performances
E-mail: [email protected]