Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Why present Don Giovanni in 2021?

From left: Jasmine Habersham (Zerlina), Kenneth Kellogg (Commendatore), and Laura Wilde (Donna Elvira). 

*Content warning: rape; sexual assault.

For many years, the character of Don Giovanni was celebrated as “Mozart’s bad boy”—an evil but charming anti-hero. But today in 2021, society has less tolerance for stories that fail to take sexual assault seriously. The norms that once helped to soften violent themes in an opera like Don Giovanni have been chipped away through #MeToo, and other social justice movements. 

So why present Don Giovanni in 2021? In addition to brilliant and glorious music, why does Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte's masterpiece demand our attention NOW?

Three singers in Seattle Opera's Don Giovanni share their thoughts on this topic. Sopranos Jasmine Habersham (Zerlina) and Laura Wilde (Donna Elvira), as well as bass Kenneth Kellogg (Commendatore), are all making company debuts. Don Giovanni, streams March 19–21, 2021. For more information, go to

Question: Why present Don Giovanni in 2021?

Kenneth Kellogg (Commendatore):
"Having been raised by really strong women, and as a husband and girl-dad, violence against women is one of the few things that really makes my blood boil. Hopefully by now in 2021, the reality of #MeToo has sunk in to our empathic as a society. With that said, the purpose of opera is to explore the human condition. The beauty and tragedy of opera is its ability to touch the light and darkness in us all. If anyone dismisses Don Giovanni for its moments of violence against women, they haven't really seen Don Giovanni. Every character in the opera speaks of how disdainful Don Giovanni is. Most are out to kill him. This story speaks to the harm enabled by bystanders. It illuminates the powerlessness and trauma of victims who have been wronged by the rich. Giovanni is very much a metaphor for inequality. We lust for wealth and the freedom we associate with wealth. But we don't recognize the wretch it causes. And, we can't forget that is takes some otherworldly being to bring things back in balance. Be it karma or God, Don Giovanni has to answer to someone or something more powerful than himself." 

Jasmine Habersham, Zerlina:
"I think the story serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when we let people like Don Giovanni stay in power or positions that hold influence. Even though Don Giovanni meets his doom, the damage that he inflicts upon each character can be even more destructive." 

Laura Wilde, Donna Elvira:
"Don Giovanni is, unfortunately, still an incredibly relevant story today. The libretto and music were written by men. But in a highly misogynistic society, there is plenty of room to mine the complexity and nuances of the real women presented in the opera. All three of the ladies in Don Giovanni represent different stories and relationships with an aggressor. Women can see their experiences and the strength each woman finds in overcoming the abuse and freeing themselves from their abuser. Elvira in particular, was not raped by Giovanni like Donna Anna was. She was not put in an uncomfortable situation because of the status-power-dynamic, like Zerlina. The more I study the role of Elvira, the more I see the real-life journey of an intelligent, passionate woman. Her own expectations of equality in a romantic partnership are scoffed at by men whose privilege prevents them from truly seeing women. Instead, these men only see how easy it is to discard women. Elvira's strength, insistence, and dedication are seen as ‘crazy,’ while those same traits are heralded in the male characters. I look forward to years with this music and this character to continue to unravel her complexities.

Philip Newton photo

Question: What a strange year to be an opera artist—eh?! What was the experience like being involved in Seattle Opera’s streaming Don Giovanni? (And why should people get tickets?).

Laura Wilde, Donna Elvira:
It's hard to describe what this project has meant in the midst of this difficult year. The collective pain of the arts community has been devastating. Along with the loss of friends and family members to COVID-19, this pandemic has brought the sudden and continued loss of work, income, and purpose for singers and performers. Each cancellation means something unique to each singer: financial ruin, loss of a long-held dream debut, fear that their career has ended, and immense sadness to not be doing what you feel called to do. The fact that Seattle Opera has pushed to safely make this Don Giovanni production work is miraculous. Every moment in the rehearsal room has felt like a gift and I am so grateful that the company has been willing to jump through all the necessary hoops to allow opera to be created again.

Kenneth Kellogg (Commendatore):
I've always thought that what I do as an artist is a privilege. When thinking about the reality that many people have been confronted with this year, making music with my friends, seemed trivial. And then, I didn't have it, and the world didn't have it. Privilege became longing and longing became necessity, for artists and audiences. With the reality of COVID-19 and understandable restrictions, the logical question was, "Can opera survive?" Artist begin to ask if they could feasibly continue to afford to be artists. Being a part of Seattle Opera's streaming of Don Giovanni, for me, is less about the opera itself and more about the fortitude of a company. Seattle Opera has used its resources to face the difficulty of this time. They are continuing with their mission to create art and serve the community of both opera lovers and artists during this crisis. 

But in terms of the opera, our Don Giovanni is a remarkable show of creativity and willingness to push the boundaries of what we think opera is. We were pushed out of the opera house, but into a space that allows us to tell operatic stories in a different way. I think what we've been able to produce here at Seattle Opera will be a significant part of the future of opera. I think it speaks to how we get through this time without sacrificing too much of what we love about the art.

Jasmine Habersham, Zerlina:
Despite everything going on in our world today, my experience of working with Seattle Opera was amazing. It felt so good to be singing and making art with so many amazing and talented people. We made art in interesting ways while maintaining social distance and other safety protocols. Also, I learned about the filming process which was completely new for me. Today, we need art more than ever and I believe that audiences will be blown away with what we have created.

On her Facebook, soprano Laura Wilde shared: "Made it home and I’m already missing this wonderful group of singers and the whole production team involved in @seattleopera’s Don Giovanni. I’m grateful for every moment, which is what I will focus on as I process the sadness of being done with this project. Can’t wait to return to a world where getting to do my beloved job is a regular part of my life." 

Don Giovanni premieres on Seattle Opera’s website at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 19 and can be viewed until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, March 21. Tickets are available online at or by calling 206.389.7676 or 800.426.1619. For questions about streaming, view our Streaming FAQs. This opera is rated PG-13 for sexual violence. Read content advisories.

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