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Making a Big Production About Mozart's Operas

Story posted July 11, 2006

Mozart's operas have inspired productions from the lavish to the ludicrous, since he premiered his first opera, Bastien und Bastienne, at the age of 12 in Vienna.

Mary Hunter, Bowdoin's A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Music, is spending the summer researching productions of his operas from the 18th through 21st centuries as part of her upcoming book "A Companion to Mozart's Operas," to be published by the Yale University Press.

etching of Don Giovanni
A parody of a scene from Don Giovanni, performed at the King's Theatre, London. Illustration published by H. Fores, 1820 July 23. Image courtesy of Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-9895].

The book will be written for interested lay people, possibly undergraduates or music lovers who attend the opera, but who are not opera scholars, she says. "I feel some responsibility to remember how to write in a way that makes the subject meaningful and interesting to people who are not musicologists," says Hunter, who also is author of "The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart's Vienna" (Princeton, 1999), which won the American Musicological Society's Kinkeldey Prize.

Her new book will include basic information about all 20 Mozart operas, as well as a series of essays about questions of production, such as putting on an 18th-century opera in the 21st century.

There's a famous Peter Sellars production of Don Giovanni set in Spanish Harlem, for example, and the banquet scene shows the hero tucking into a Big Mac and fries.

"I'm not so sure that works," Hunter says. "But Sellars' production of The Marriage of Figaro is set in Trump Towers, and I thought that was fabulous."

Hunter and Kasparak
Mary Hunter, left, is relying on Nick Kasprak '08 to catalog visual representations of Mozart's operas. In the process, he says, he hopes to develop ideas for creating his own opera.

Hunter is being aided in her research by Nick Kasprak '08, whose job this summer is to explore the visual representation of the opera productions. The research may just inspire an opera of his own.

"He'll be looking at the scenes, the costumes, the gestures, how people have imagined the whole thing," Hunter says. "Basically, I'm sending him on a fishing expedition."

Kasprak says he is viewing DVDs of various productions of the operas to explore how the directors approach different theatrical problems. His goal is two-fold: to contribute information for Hunter's book, and to prepare for a two-year honors project for which he hopes to write and stage his own comic opera.

"The visual aspects of the opera are one thing I don't know that much about," says Kasprak. "I've listened to a lot of operas, but I haven't seen that many productions. This will help me figure out how the plot works."

Kasprak, a physics and astronomy major, began taking piano lessons when he was five, and playing the French horn at nine. He has composed one symphony and one piano concerto, each a half hour in length. He acknowledges that composing an entire opera is much more ambitious, but he's giving himself a break: "It'll be in English, and it will be a comedy," he says. "Comedy is much easier to do."

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