Plácido Domingo will conduct Don Giovanni

Two special performances will mark the 230th anniversary of the premiere in Prague

Opera star Plácido Domingo will be conducting two performances of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni to mark the 230th anniversary of when Mozart himself conducted the world premiere of the opera at Prague's Estates Theater.

The performances will be Oct. 27 and 29, 2017, at the Estates Theater, and will be based on a famous 1960s staging of the opera with some new ideas added. It will not be the version that is currently in the National Theater's repertoire, but a based on a previous one. Mozart conducted the premiere Oct. 29, 1787.

The lead singers will be winners of the international contest Operalia, which Domingo has sponsored since 1993. Other roles such as Masetto and Elvira will be filled by local singers who Domingo is beginning to audition. The project is being staged by a company called Domingo-Mozart-Prague.

Domingo was in Prague to begin preparations for the performances, which are still nine months away.

“We are ready to make a baby. The baby is being made right now,” Domingo said, adding that the press was witnessing the conception of the anniversary project, and that in four or five months he would have another news conference to show how the baby had developed.

“We are starting a very special event, not only musically. … Many people around the don't know that the first Don Giovanni took place in Prague, that it was the first city to play this masterpiece,” he said.

Domingo had been to Prague and other Czech locations such as Český Krumlov several years ago during his travels as an opera singer and also privately. He decided that Prague in particular should be better known for its cultural heritage. “We had the idea when we saw this beautiful theater that Prague needs to be better-known as the city where the miracle of this masterpiece happened,” he said. “People should know Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart chose Prague for the first Don Giovanni.”

The performances might be simulcast to cinemas around the world, something that has become increasingly popular with opera, plays and ballet. “We would also like to make a documentary about the city, talking about Mucha and Kafka and so many other great, great talents and artists from Czech culture,” Domingo said.

He was also pleased that the project had political support. “It is wonderful that all of the organization of the theater is joined by the strength of the political side,” he said. Culture Minister Daniel Herman and Prague 1 Mayor Oldřich Lomecký showed up to greet Domingo in front of the Estates Theater and also to show support at the news conference.

“The idea was born about basically Operalia winner singers, but we thought since we have found all the possibilities here, all the help of everyone out of the National Theater it is important to have local singers,” Domingo said. Minister Herman had pushed for Czech singers to be included, which is now the case.

Don Giovanni is one of the top operas in the world, according to Domingo. He listed Carmen, Aida and Madame Butterfly as the leaders. “Then next comes Don Giovanni,” he said, praising the team of composer Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. Domingo characterized the music and the drama of Don Giovanni as “intense,” and different from Mozart's other operas.

“Particularly I don't like the character of Don Giovanni, personally, just because I don't understand the way he treats women and why they were so crazy about him,” he said. “I enjoy very much conducting Don Giovanni [but] I don't want to do it as a character because I don't feel it,” he said. At the beginning of his career he played Don Ottavio for 52 performances in Israel. Domingo added that throughout his career he has avoided anti-heroes. He appreciates others playing those roles, though. “I am happy to conduct Mozart's music and to be able to enjoy the performance.”

Domingo also praised the structure of the opera. At the time it was written, most operas had many scene changes. “Mozart gives us the possibility to do what we do today: one intermission only,” he said. “It is a masterpiece.” The mix of comedy and tragedy, and the number of different characters was also remarkable. “It is the modern conception of theater [done] so early. You can see this team of Mozart and Da Ponte were geniuses,” he said.

Domingo and his wife, Marta, who is also an opera singer, will be supervising the staging and bringing in some new ideas to the existing production. He would like to emphasize the punishment at the end more, he said. As he develops the project, he hopes to see the possibilities for making some changes based on the technical capabilities of the theater. “We are not going to be doing a new production. We want to keep the staging [of the archival production] but it is not going to be exactly the same,” he said.

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