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Swipe Right for Mozart

by Mary Alice Franklin, ArtsNews Editor

Screenshot from Taconic Opera's "Don Giovanni"

When attending an opera, one wouldn’t expect to see references to modern social media apps like Instagram or Tinder. To common recollection, Mozart never included a man in a bunny suit in his comedic plot twists either. Yet, upon watching Taconic Opera’s interpretation of Don Giovanni, a viewer will encounter all of the above. As it turns out, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced its own form of farce to the opera.

New York Opera Conservatory (NYOC), Taconic Opera’s training program for young opera singers, was set to perform Mozart’s dark comedy before State-mandated quarantines began. Like many arts organizations, NYOC then faced the obstacle of the production’s cancellation.

According to General Director Dan Montez: “Telling a love story with no touching is next to impossible. If you can’t touch, there needs to be a reason and it must be incorporated into the story.” The company swiftly did an about-face and recreated the classic opera with a modern twist. Says Montez: “The only way to make it work legitimately was to make the pandemic part of the production. By re-imagining Giovanni…we were able to create a world that relied on Internet connections and cell phones.”

Still, the question remained: how does an opera company perform without a stage – or without the performers being in the same room as one another?  For one, the entire production was recorded on iPhones. However, to truly pursue the “technology” angle, they decided to go all-in.  Says Montez: “Throughout the production, we used every special effect we could employ with our phones…In this way, the opera shows us just how bizarre and surreal our world has become.” The production weaves into its plot everything from Tinder profiles to Snapchat filters.

After all, the same classic tropes and themes of the story, including love, revenge and deception, remain relevant today. In disguise, Lothario Don Giovanni tries to seduce Donna Anna, who is engaged to Don Ottavio. This results in the death of Donna Anna’s father. The plot twists continue throughout the production. Except in this version, Giovanni woos women with a delivery of toilet paper and Clorox bleach and the tenor aria Il mio tesoro is a home cooking show.

“We just wanted to find a way to offer our program to young singers so they could build their resumés,” Montez explains. NYOC is designed to strengthen a singer’s skills and knowledge for getting jobs, auditioning and being evaluated.

If the production wasn’t enough of a feat, Montez says that the company staged, filmed and edited three two-hour movies (one for each of three separate casts) in just five weeks. Adding subtitles, he says, was a feat of its own. “So, although there may be production errors, they are a major part of the charm of the work.”

A version of this article first appeared in the September issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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