Don Giovanni revived at the Estates Theatre

A famous groundbreaking set from 1969 by Josef Svoboda is back

An acclaimed production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni is returning to the Estates Theatre for 15 performances between Aug. 9 and 31.

The production is the same one that was revived in 2017 for two sold-out black-tie performances to mark the 230th anniversary of the premiere of the opera, with Plácido Domingo conducting.

The premiere was at the same theater on Oct. 29, 1787, with Mozart conducting.

The Estates Theatre is the last standing opera house where Mozart conducted his own work anywhere in the world.

The production being revived originated at the Estates Theatre in 1969, with stage direction by Václav Kašlík and a set by Josef Svoboda.

When pop star David Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads, was in Prague recently for a concert, he said that seeing set designs by Josef Svoboda at the Czechoslovak pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal is what made him become interested in the performing arts. He encouraged people to Google the name if they did not know it.

Svoboda and Kašlík worked together on numerous productions, but Don Giovanni stands out. The set is based on the interior of the Estates Theatre and looks as if the seating boxes from the auditorium extend all the way onto the stage, breaking the distinction between the spaces for the audience and for the actors.

The current production brings in another famous name. Costume designer Theodor Pištěk, who won an Oscar for Amadeus, made new costumes for a revival in 2006, overseen by director Jiří Nekvasil and set designer Daniel Dvořák. These costumes were used together with Svoboda's set for Plácido Domingo's 2017 production.

The current cast includes soloists of the National Theatre Opera and the State Opera, accompanied by the State Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Richard Hein and Jiří Štrunc.

The opera is performed in the original Italian, with Czech and English surtitles, and lasts approximately three hours.

There are many tales associated with the premiere. Mozart is said to have only composed the overture during the night prior to the opening and that he gave musicians sheet music that was still wet with ink.

A variation on the tale is that he was drinking in a Prague pub with friends when one of them reminded him that the opera, set to premiere the next day, was still not finished — and maybe he should be composing instead of drinking. Mozart had forgotten all about it and ran off to finish the missing parts.

Another legend states that Mozart met the famous womanizer Giacomo Casanova in Prague at Bretfeld Palace on Nerudova Street, and that Casnova was the inspiration for the opera. Casanova was in Bohemia from 1785 until his death in 1798, and he was in Prague at the time the opera was being written. He apparently did meet with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, but whether he met Mozart is not certain. His influence on the opera is questionable at best. Lorenzo da Ponte claimed it was based on the fictional Don Juan legend and not any real person.

Mozart on Nov. 4, 1787, reported from Prague that his new opera had been staged to great acclaim and that he wished his friends could have shared his joy. “My Praguers understand me,” he is alleged to have said.

Mozart was actually in Prague just a few times, and one of the places he stayed is Thun Palace, which is now the British Embassy. During the time he wrote Don Giovanni he stayed at Uhelný trh 420, then called U Tří lvíčků, where there is now a plaque with his likeness. He apparently shot billiards and went drinking on Skořepka Street during this time. He also drank at a pub called U Modrého hroznu, which was once located next to the Estates Theatre. It is long gone.

For more information visit www.narodni-divadlo.cz.

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