âThis message will not be here. It just happens to be a hallmark of this play, but you’ll go here, âsaid Garnett Bruce, director of the San Antonio Opera. Don Giovanni, which is at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts on October 7th and 9th.
Bruce points Michael Sumuel, the bass / baritone playing Leporello, to a spot taped to the floor of the Radius Center, where the actors started rehearsals last week, then backs up so Sumuel and Craig Verm, who plays Don Giovanni, can s ‘lead to the next section of the production cemetery scene. The rehearsal is part of a two-day program that the actors wrapped up on certain days last week before moving on to the Tobin Center, where they added set and costumes to their work.
Sumuel says that after months of no in-person performances due to COVID-19, it takes hours of rehearsals like these to get back into opera form. âIt’s like playing sports. The only way to get back in shape is to play, âhe says. âIt takes time, but the work is worth it. “
He and the other cast and crew will wear masks until the curtain opens on October 7 – one of the precautions Sumuel says is allowing the fine art to return to normal. Opera San Antonio also shortened the traditional Don Giovanni in a 90-minute production so that intermission is not necessary. The opera is sung in Italian but will include English surtitles. Sumuel, from Odessa, shares here how he entered the art form and what audiences can expect when the show opens this week.
Tell us about Don Giovanni.
Well, its classification is a dramatic comedy so you have some very dramatic death cases and of course all the flirtations of Don Giovanni, but there is also a comedy that breaks it. It’s up to Mozart and Mozart is human emotion imprinted on the page, so you feel the full scope of human experience in that hour and a half.
Is this something that first-time operators can appreciate?
Yeah, I think even from a show timing point of view, it’s a bit tight. But you still get the main plot points, and plenty of major tunes and ensembles are still in the play. It’s a great primer for people who have never been there and just want to try something new. For opera lovers, it’s uncluttered, but it’s still a room big enough for opera lovers to come back and feel like it’s back to normal.
How did you start to sing opera?
Funny enough, I had no interest in singing opera growing up. I grew up singing in Odessa church, but more contemporary styles. And then my college choir teacher, who is always like a mom to me, came to my elementary school to talk about choir. Choir in college led to choir in high school. From there I got the idea that I wanted to teach choir in high school. But I still loved acting, so when it came time to choose a major in college, I took the vocal performance path. I think it was the German lieder that really caught my ear and from there eventually led me to the opera.
And you played that role, Leporello, earlier this year with the Seattle Opera? Was it similar or is each setting different enough?
Yes, it was a filmed version that had to be stripped down due to COVID, but it was my first opera project on film. Going through the filming process and learning to rhythm myself, as you’re shooting the same scene from five different angles, it was a great learning experience.
Each set is quite different, but it’s good to have that basic knowledge of the character, and then the flexibility and openness to say, âOK, I can see that the relationship between Don Giovanni and Leporello is different in this one â, but I still understand the arc of the story and where it needs to go.
The last time I sang this role before was in college, probably 10 years ago. I participated in two more Don Giovanis playing a different role and when I was a young artist at the Houston Grand Opera one of my role studies was learning the role of Don Giovanni. So keeping all the parts separate in my head and making sure I’m singing the right vocal part is sometimes tricky.
Without live performances, what did the pandemic look like to you?
It was tough on the job side just because so many projects I was looking forward to were canceled. It seemed like I was getting cancellation notifications every week for a while.
But oddly, on a personal level, my girlfriend and I got engaged in May 2020 and if my schedule had stayed as is I would have spent more time away from my fiancÃ©. We spent a lot of time together, which doesn’t normally happen, but it was a blessing in disguise. It was definitely an interesting and thoughtful time and the lessons I learned will take them with me, knowing that as much as I love it, it can’t be the most or the only thing that matters in my life.
I came down [to San Antonio] from Dallas, where much of my family now lives. My wife and son traveled with me, and it was the first time many of them had met him [heâs 12 weeks old]. My next gig is in Dallas, so they can see me play there.
You mentioned that the pandemic has also made you aware of the importance of the arts. How? ‘Or’ What?
It’s something you don’t realize how much you miss until he’s gone. I didn’t realize how much I missed the rehearsal process or hearing live instruments until I sat in Seattle rehearsing for Don Giovanni. The brass were playing on the balcony and it was simple – it’s two bars of Mozart – but it was beautiful.
I realized how crucial this is and how much the arts are integrated into our daily life. I think we’ve seen it in the response from people who can now go to shows or Broadway. You realize how much we need it and how much we hope we can continue to create space and funding for the arts. Of course, there are a lot of important things, but the arts are essential to our human experience.
October 7 and 9
Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets available here.
Note: The production was originally intended to feature the San Antonio Symphony. Due to the strike of the musicians of the San Antonio Symphony, Don Giovanni will feature other musicians live.