It’s every trick-or-treater’s nightmare: That scary graveyard statue that you laughed at now comes to horrific life, reminds you of your misdeeds and drags you down to hell, backed up by a chorus of menacing ghosts. Add in sadistic lecher Don Juan as the hero, and you’ve got Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni,” opening at the Rialto Theater next weekend with Tacoma Opera. It’s great opera — but it’s also a darn good ghost story, just in time for Halloween.
“It’s good timing for Halloween, although that wasn’t our original thought,” says Tacoma Opera director Noel Koran, who is stage directing the production.
Most people have heard of the fictitious Spaniard Don Juan (Giovanni in Italian — don’t worry, there’ll be English surtitles) and his seductive conquests all over Europe.
2,065 women seduced by Don Giovanni according to the “list” aria
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But Mozart’s opera takes the tale to a terrifying finish: After one seduction too many, the Don’s mortal enemies (the spurned Donna Elvira, the shocked Donna Anna, whose father Don Giovanni killed as he escaped from her garden) plot their revenge. Meanwhile, Donna Anna’s dead father — the Commendatore — begins threatening Don Giovanni from his grave, finally rising from it to gatecrash the Don’s party and take him down to hell.
“This opera goes from a tiny hint of the supernatural in the graveyard scene to full-on ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ in the end,” sums up baritone Michael Drumheller, who sings the scary Commendatore.
It’s definitely a ghost story. It’s about Don Giovanni dealing with his demons.
Tacoma Opera director Noel Koran.
For big-budget opera companies, “Don Giovanni” is a chance to have some stage fun. Seattle Opera’s version last fall included a 10-foot-high walking statue costume and a trapdoor leading into ghostly red flames that lit up the whole stage.
In Tacoma, where the Rialto Theater has no trapdoor, no wings, no overhead fly and no orchestra pit, it’s a bit more of a challenge.
“We sat for a long time in the planning meetings thinking, ‘How in heck are we going to get Don Giovanni to descend to hell in the Rialto?’ ” Koran says.
Koran eventually figured out a solution, though he isn’t giving away the secret. He also came up with some extras to the original that add to the opera’s spooky factor. Four women from the Don’s past, recalled in his servant Leporello’s comic “list” aria, begin hanging silently around in wispy blue-gray costumes, haunting his party and finally transforming into avenging Furies to bring him down.
And the Commendatore? He becomes a ghost, too, trailing a long costume of metallic fabric and gravestone make-up. Combine that with the throbbing bass declarations, implacable descending fifths and eerily chromatic crescendos that Mozart wrote for him, you have a statue you definitely don’t want to meet in a dark alley.
“I’m immensely grateful when people come up afterward and say, ‘That was really scary,’ ” says Drumheller, who sang the Commendatore as his first-ever opera role and loves the typical villains given to a bass-baritone voice, as well as funny roles like Sir Joseph Porter last year in Tacoma Opera’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” “I have a scary voice, and I love scary stuff. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I’m notorious in my Seattle neighborhood for all my frightening make-up. I usually also have a spike sticking out of my head or a hatchet wound.”
At 6-foot-4, Drumheller already makes a frightening figure. As the cast rehearses the statue scenes, his voice rings around the exposed brick of the Armory rehearsal space, his hand forcing Don Giovanni down in a vice-like grip while the Furies circle round.
I’ve listened to this opera a thousand times and still, every note sounds fresh.
Tacoma Opera singer Michael Drumheller
Of course, there’s much more to this opera than just scary theatrics. Often acclaimed as Mozart’s greatest, it has some of his most stunningly beautiful arias and complex writing, where several styles and tunes overlay each other. The Tacoma production features both familiar voices — Fircrest soprano Karen Early Evans as Donna Anna, Christina Kowalski from last year’s “The Magic Flute” as Donna Elvira — and some new ones, including rising tenor star Kevin Wetzel in the title role. Enrique Carreón-Robledo will guest conduct.
For Drumheller, the music triumphs even the chance to be one of opera’s scariest characters.
“It’s just great to sing,” he says. “These are a few of the greatest pages of music ever written.”
More Spooky Arts
Don’t just stop at an opera about a sadistic lecher who gets dragged down to hell by a ghost. Tacoma’s and Seattle’s arts scenes this month are bursting with spooky stories, from ballet to burlesque, orchestras to art, theater and film to circus.
Taproot Theatre: “Dracula”
“Dracula lurks in the shadows, plotting to prey on the people of England. As night falls over London, intrepid heroes join forces to defeat him with the only weapon he fears — a heart willing to sacrifice everything.” If that doesn’t inspire you to see “Dracula,” on extended run at Seattle’s Taproot Theatre, nothing will.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 31.
Where: Taproot Theater, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle.
Information: 206-781-9707, taproottheatre.com.
Lakewood Playhouse: “The Birds” radio show
Lakewood’s eighth annual radio show this year features “The Birds,” Daphne Du Maurier’s novelette about kamikaze birds attacking a farmhouse that later inspired Alfred Hitchcock. This version is set up on stage like a 1940s radio studio, complete with live sound effects.
When: 8 p.m. Friday (Oct. 23)-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood.
Cost: $25 (includes hors d’oeuvres).
Information: 253-588-0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org.
Broadway Center: “Night of the Living Dead”
It won’t stay dead! The Broadway Center’s Film Focus series revives 1968 cult horror film “Night of the Living Dead.” Costumes are encouraged.
When: 7 and 9 p.m. Oct. 30.
Where: Studio 3, Broadway Center, 915 Broadway, Tacoma.
Information: 253-591-5894, broadwaycenter.org.
Tacoma City Ballet: “Haunted Theater.”
Black-lit skeletons. Mournful ghosts. Prancing pumpkins. It’s all there in Tacoma City Ballet’s popular “Haunted Theater” shows, which also feature backstage tours of the ballet studios, led by costumed dancers – a perfect not-so-scary thrill for littlies. Book early, as the shows sell out.
When: 7 p.m. Friday (Oct. 23), 3 and 5 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday; and 7 p.m. Oct. 30.
Where: Tacoma City Ballet, 508 Sixth Ave., Tacoma.
Gritty City Sirens: “Carnival of CuriosiTease”
Tacoma’s sassy burlesque troupe bring on the Halloween fun along with bluegrass band The Rusty Cleavers, indie rock Mirrorgloss, Flair Entertainment fire dancing, a costume contest and more.
When: 9 p.m. Oct. 31.
Where: Temple Theater, 47 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma.
At Cabiri’s “Ghost Games IX: Dead Gods” you can dine on delicious desserts and cocktails while spirits, acrobats and aerialists float around your candlelit table. The dessert cabaret show draws on ancient mythologies for its plot and choreography. Mature audiences (16+) only. Festive attire encouraged; costume contest on Oct. 31.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Oct. 23)-Sunday and Oct. 31; 7 p.m. Nov. 1.
Where: Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way SW, Seattle.
Cost: $45-$100 (plus cash bar).
Emerald City Trapeze gets scary with “Carnevolar VI: The Funeral,” a show and dance party with flying trapeze, aerial acts and plenty of make-up.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday (family-friendly); 9:30 p.m. Oct. 30-31 (21 and older show and dance party).
Where: Emerald City Trapeze, 2702 Sixth Ave. S, Seattle.
Tacoma Youth Orchestra: A Night at the Movies Costume Concert
The teenagers in the Tacoma Youth Symphony and Tacoma Young Artists Orchestra dress up in costume and play greatest hits from “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” “Phantom of the Opera” and more, while the audience gets to win costume prizes too.
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 30.
Where: Urban Grace Church, 902 Market St., Tacoma.
Information: 253-627-2792, tysamusic.org.
Jeff Orr: Halloween organ concert
Bach’s ominous Toccata in d minor, Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and music from “Harry Potter” and “Phantom of the Opera” — get scared by music played by Mason United organist Jeff Orr before you head out to trick-and-treat.
When: 6 p.m. Oct. 31.
Where: Mason United Methodist Church, 2710 N. Madison St., Tacoma.
Tacoma Art Museum: Dia de los Muertos
Community altars to the dead, skeleton sand paintings…Tacoma Art Museum’s annual free community festival for Dia de los Muertos celebrates the best of this traditional Mexican holiday. New this year: Come costumed head to toe as a ‘calavera’ (skeleton) and enter the competition for a prize. Face-paint allowed but no masks.
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 1 (competition begins 2:15 p.m. at doors).
Where: Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.
Information: 253-272-4258, tacomaartmuseum.org.
Museum District: Halloween Chihuly tour
The Museum of Glass docents add some spooky to their usual walking tour of Dale Chihuly glass art, telling ghost tales from the University of Washington, Tacoma and the Swiss Pub.
When: 2-3 p.m. Oct. 31.
Where: Departs Museum of Glass lobby, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma.
Cost: $25 general; $22 military, senior and student; $15 children; $10 member, includes museum admission. Free admission for children in costume on Oct. 31.
Information: 866-4-MUSEUM, museumofglass.org.
eTc Streetwear: Anime Goth art
Ian Wheelock, a Tacoma School of the Arts alum whose final project won him a congressional art award, presents “Haunted Mountain,” a show of tongue-in-cheek comic art and a newly-released comic book “Anime Goth.” Come in costume. All-ages, art and more available for purchase.
When: 7-10 p.m. Oct. 30.
Where: eTc Streetwear, 907 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.