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International singers to star in Mozart's Opera Don Giovanni
April 13, 2016, 2:02 pm
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Ahmadi Music Group is performing Mozart’s classic Don Giovanni in the Abdulhussain Abdulredha Theatre in Salmiya on Thursday-Friday, 14 and 15 April. The opera tells the story of a wealthy young man who expects every woman to be in love with him, and treats them all with disrespect.  

Gradually, the women he has dishonored join together and begin to pursue him to take their revenge, but he always manages to escape, and laughs at their anger.  Will he get the punishment he deserves?  With live orchestra, chorus, international soloists, and the ballet company of Center for the Arts, this AMG production will combine drama, comedy, and Mozart’s incomparable music into the highlight of the cultural year in Kuwait.

The cast members who flew into Kuwait to perform at this opera spoke with The Times Kuwait in an exclusive interview with The Times about their roles and their career as Opera singers. Here are some excerpts from it.

Chris Foster, who lives in London with his wife Liz, has been involved in a variety of endeavors in the music world; he sings professionally, teaches singing classes and manages his own professional ad-hoc choir. He plays the character Leporello, Don Giovanni’s servant. 

Maud Millar, an Irish performer from London, started singing folk songs for her family and friends with the backing of an Irish Ceilidh Band. She performs at Jazz concerts with a Jazz trio, and is involved in Musical Theatre and Broadway singing. She sings for Donna Elvira, a noble woman who has been used and abandoned by Don Giovanni.

Eva Fiechter, a half Swiss half Greek, born in Geneva, toured with a band across Switzerland and France while taking singing lessons with a classical teacher. Soon she fell in love with opera and got her first contracts as an opera singer and actress in theaters across Switzerland, France and Germany. Her character in the opera is Donna Anna, an emotionally complex young noble lady who was engaged to Don Ottavio and she retaliates for his abuse against her.

Tristan Stocks, a tenor from the UK, always felt an innate love for all things musical and was smitten with the craft during his first year in Music College in France, when he was given the opportunity to sing in the chorus for a production of The Pearl Fishers. His other interests include various outdoor activities, woodwork and cooking.

Julian Debreuil studied singing, conducting, piano and composition at the Royal College of Music in London and the Solti Accademia di Bel Canto in Tuscany.  In his free time, he enjoys many leisure activities and sports.  Classical music has always been an obsession and opera suits his voice. He also loves acting which is a huge part of this job.

What made you all decide to choose opera over other solo renditions?

Eva Fiechter - For me, opera is one of the most complete form of art. It links music, theater, painting, clothes design together. It teaches you to work in team. It allows you to meet new people and share a lot of knowledge, ideas and bring new perspectives into your life. It is an unending quest for excellence, and it's the perfect combination to make your brain and body work together. Also, it brings you the opportunity to explore different characters every time you embody a new role and teaches you a lot about history and human psychology.

What level of training is needed to be a professional opera singer?

Chris Foster - To be a professional opera singer, you must be suitable vocally for the roles you want to sing and be able to act them out well too.  The days of fat singers just standing and singing, regardless of the story or situation in an opera are long gone. The public needs more realism, even if opera stretches reality.

Julian Debreuil - Most people require at least 3 years of intense training—  singing lessons, language coaching, acting classes, diction,etc. The training never stops though. You continue to learn new and useful things in every production from your friends and colleagues. I think that after the initial training you learn more on the job than you do in classes.

How many hours of practice do you all put in every day?

Maud Millar- I try to carve out two hours every day for practice, which is the most I find I can do good work for. After that, my voice gets tired and my brain stops taking in new information,  and I know I need to stop and move away from singing for a while.

Eva Fiechter -Opera singers are really like athletes, you have to train the muscles, the stamina and the mental every single day for years in order to be a professional singer. For a Mozart opera, because the music is so pure and virtuoso you need to be an experienced singer.

In terms of singing practice I would say I usually sing two to three hours per day. Then I will spend three hours working on the phrasing the interpretation and the musical aspect of the piece. I could also spend a couple of hours on memorizing, and some hours about the psychology of my character and the historical context of the work.  Every day is different but I think I must spend around 11 hours in a day for my professional work.

What is your specific character in the opera?

Chris Foster - I am singing Leporello, a comic role in many aspects but there is a dark side to him. He opens the opera saying that he doesn't want to work for the Don, the main character anymore and yet, there is a side of him that probably wishes he WAS the Don. He has done his dirty work for him many times because he has to, but wishes his life was different.

Julian Debreuil - In Don Giovanni, I play two characters. Masetto - a peasant who has just married Zerlina, only to have her snatched from him by Don Giovanni. He gets her back though.

Il Commendatore - Donna Anna's father who is killed by Don Giovanni at the beginning, but then returns as a statue and condemns Don Giovanni to hell. Both these characters are amazing in their own right.

Maud Millar- I sing Donna Elvira, a noble woman who has been used and abandoned by Don Giovanni. She's a fascinating woman; unsure, vulnerable, betrayed- but at the same time incredibly self-assured and charismatic, a leader of others. She really spurs the crusade against Don Giovanni and brings about his eventual downfall- not bad for a woman who, at the beginning of the opera, was just another poor creature torn apart by Don Giovanni!

Eva Fiechter - My character in this opera is Donna Anna. She is a noble young lady is engaged to Don Ottavio, a young noble man from the same ranked as her. All her education is based on high society rules and how she should behave within this context. She has to fulfill her duties and honor her family by marrying the man that has been chosen for her.

She is quite a complex character as the opera starts with a scene showing Don Giovanni abusing her and killing her father who is trying to rescue her. I think that makes her an emotionally traumatized and unstable character fighting with her conscience and disturbing feelings such as guilt, remorse, attraction, repulsion, fear, anguish, and mourning. During the whole opera , she is in a post-traumatic state. She hides most of her real feelings in order to behave properly and put all her remaining strength in hiding what did really happened during the night she was abused in order to keep her honor and reputation safe.

What have been some of the challenges in performing this opera?

Julian Debreuil- Learning a new translation. Staying true to the music whilst trying to follow the director's vision.

Maud Millar- The big challenge, for me, is finding the balance in the character; she can't be too weepy or too furious, otherwise she becomes a caricature and she's not believable. She is, above all, a woman, and a woman with legitimate feelings and emotions which are worth paying attention to- and it is that which I want to come through in my exploration of her.

Eva Fiechter - The challenge would be to find the right emotional distance with the role in order to not get overwhelmed by all the strong and wide range of contradictory emotions that are constantly surrounding the character of Donna Anna.

The clue is to rely on the power of Mozart's music and to know that the right portrayal of the character is written in his melodic lines. Everything that needs to be expressed is in his music.

Tristan Stocks – With this opera in particular, each character has quite an intricate back-story. As a production team, it is really important for us to sit down and discuss certain elements so that we could be clear about how to play our characters together.

What makes Don Giovanni special to each of you?

Chris Foster - Don Giovanni is special for many reasons and has even inspired me to visit the theatre in Prague where it was premiered.  Musically and dramatically it has everything: love, death, a fight scene, comedy, great music and morality to boot!

Maud Millar- From a personal perspective, it's an opera I'll always associate with one of the happiest times in my life, performing it as a young woman on a tour to the South of France with an orchestra called Sinfonia d'Amici; Orchestra of Friends. And we really were all friends, from University or from Music College; it was very magical and a true marriage of minds.

Eva Fiechter - Don Giovanni this opera is special for me because Donna Anna is one of my dream roles and it is the first time I will perform it onstage. Mozart is also really special to me because I strongly believe in the beneficial aspect of his music on people.

Do you all see opera growing in popularity; if not what can be done?

Maud Millar- I worry for opera, because I fear that it is in some ways an aging art form; most of the real opera lovers I've encountered have been middle-aged or older, very rarely teenagers or young adults. I do think it's gradually gaining back an audience amongst the younger generation, however, as we as an industry have started to acknowledge the problem and to actively seek ways to engage with young people. In London this often takes the form of guerrilla concerts or underground gigs which blend classical music with electronic music as a way of moving it forward. Non classical, for example, is a great example of this; it's a club night in London which does exactly this, incorporating classical or contemporary classical music into the musical fabric of the evening. I've sung for them a few times, and it was very successful.

Eva Fiechter - I think what we could change is the education.  We could introduce opera to small children in nurseries and primary schools as they do in Germany, so classical music would become really natural and a part of every day's life. Mixing opera with spoken theater or musical theater would be also a possibility as to make opera more known and show that all these art forms could nurture each other.

As international artists, how do you feel performing in Kuwait?

Chris Foster - It has been great fun and the weather is so much more reliable here than in London!  The people are lovely and I have only encountered smiling faces wherever we have gone.

Eva Fiechter - Performing in Kuwait is a very enriching experience because it is a new artistic form of expression here and I feel like a pioneer, working with passionate people and doing our best to create a beautiful show.  Richard and Harriet Bushman are incredible people and they really put the right energy to develop a new aspect of the cultural life in Kuwait which is great for the development of the country. 

Tristan Stocks – It is my first time in Kuwait and I’m really pleased and excited to be able to play a part in bringing Opera to somewhere that only has a few performances of this kind of music each year.

— Christina Pinto
Staff Writer

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