The opera department of the University of North Texas College of Music and the fashion department of the UNT College of Visual Arts and Design (CVAD) are collaborating for the first time to put on a production of Don Giovanni, an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The opera debuted Friday, but there are still shows on Sunday, Nov. 3 and Nov. 10 at 3 p.m. and on Friday, Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m.
“Don Giovanni is one of the great legends of all time,” opera director Jonathan Eaton said. “And on one level, at least, it’s about the Don Juan, who seduces all women whenever possible and gets his comeuppance.”
Eaton said that this version is set in the modern day. Therefore, the costumes needed to reflect the time period. The collaboration came about after Eaton attended an exhibition put on by graduate students in the fashion program. One student utilized 3D printing, laser cutting and other modern technology in her designs. He reached out to CVAD and got in touch with Barbara Trippeer, assistant professor of fashion design.
Trippeer had already planned to teach her Alternative Processes class, which teaches students how to incorporate modern technology into their fashion designs. The class became a vehicle in which students designed the costumes, which Trippeer said allowed them to work under circumstances different from what they were used to.
“It also allowed them to work with real, live people, not just industry standard models,” Trippear said. “In the classroom, we work on an industry-standard medium. Opera singers are not industry-standard mediums, so we had a lot of customization to do.”
“Wearable technology,” as Trippeer calls it, can be seen throughout the show. There is a ghost costume that includes LED lights and the death shroud was made using laser cutting. Trippeer also said that one of the major props, the Book of Conquests, features LED lights and 3D printed elements.
The modern design goes hand in hand with Eaton’s modern adaptation. He said that in most versions of this opera, Don Giovanni is depicted as a “lovable rogue” who seduces women at every turn. This modern retelling takes recent events such as the #MeToo movement into account and gives a stronger voice to the story’s female characters.
“For instance, Donna Elvira is generally played as a hysterical, overreacting soprano who, though [Don Giovanni] is a bastard, she still comes back and loves him,” Eaton said. “In our version ... she comes back to criticize him, reform him and ultimately dismiss him.”
Eaton said that updating the story helps modern audiences relate to it more. He said that many directors have rewritten the works of Shakespeare, so rewriting operas is possible as well.
Second year graduate student Christopher Curcuruto portrays comedic relief character Leporello. He has been in two other productions of this opera and said that this one is particularly unique.
“This production in particular, it delves into a lot of issues,” Curcuruto said. “And so I think audiences who may be familiar with Don Giovanni already, they’re not familiar with this one.”
Curcuruto said that it was particularly important for his costume to be durable because his character is very physical. This is one of several challenges that the fashion students faced. Senior Shalisa Irby said that although this made the design process more difficult, it was ultimately helpful for the fashion students.
“A lot of us struggle because these garments are like our children,” Irby said. “It was kind of hard because we don’t want our garments to get all banged up and mangled. But it was a good experience, overall, for all of us as designers because you need these garments to be functional.”
Irby said she got a bit frustrated when she was moved between different projects or when aspects of the costumes had to be changed at the last minute. Because they began working on these costumes at the beginning of the semester, they have had a very fast turnaround. However, she said that she realized that this is what it is like in the real world, especially when working on a TV or movie set.
Seniors Aria Brown and Augie Sanjaa said that this was also a chance to make clothing for plus size models, which the students do not typically to in their classes.
Trippeer said that this was especially important. She said that there has been a large conversation in the fashion industries about designing for “real bodies,” which these students have now done through this process.
“A lot of people talk about inclusive sizing,” Trippeer said. “But they executed inclusive sizing.”
Trippeer and Eaton both said that they are very excited about this collaboration. Eaton said that he has done 17th century renditions of this opera in the past. This new version will not only tell a modernized version of the story, but he said that it also will forge a connection between the two schools.
“I think this is one of the things that universities can do and should do,” Eaton said. “Because here on one square mile, we’ve got so many different disciplines and expertises. And we tend to live in our own silos ... but putting bridges out from one school to another, I think it’s really healthy.”
To purchase tickets to Don Giovanni, visit https://thempac.music.unt.edu/.