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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the April 13, 2005

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Lust, Murder Revenge — It Must be Opera

Edward Crafts, director for Boheme Opera’s upcoming production of

Mozart’s "Don Giovanni," knows the opera from the inside out. Singer

as well as director, bass/baritone Crafts has sung three principal

roles in the opera. "For many years I have been both performer and

director. Each occupation gives a unique perspective on the other one.

As a performer, you see yourself from the perspective of a director

out in the audience. Having looked at performers for many hours, you

have a sense of how the performance appears from the audience. It

gives you an extra eye."

Boheme Opera’s production plays at Trenton’s War Memorial Friday,

April 15 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 17 at 3 p.m. The work is sung in

Italian, with English titles. Artistic director Joseph Pucciatti

conducts.

Several veteran Boheme Opera performers occupy major roles.

Constantinos Yiannoudes, last year’s Figaro in "The Barber of

Seville," sings the title role. Matthew Lau, also a "Barber" alumnus,

sings the role of Don’s servant Leporello. Adina Aaron, who sings

Donna Anna, was last heard at Boheme Opera as Carmen. Cheryl Evans

debuts with Boheme Opera as Donna Elvira.

"When you’re directing, and you have experience as performer, it’s

easier to work with performers on the details of their craft," says

Crafts, who directed Rossini’s "Barber of Seville" for Boheme last

year. "Having performed helps you direct everything from the mechanics

of a sword fight to how best to move in a certain direction. You know

when to say, ‘Just put your weight on your left foot, and that will

fix the problem.’"

Crafts has performed in almost all the roles suitable for his voice in

the opera. As Don Giovanni Crafts has taken on the character of the

notorious womanizer who seduces the noble Donna Anna; kills her

father, the Commendatore; flees from his former lover, Donna Elvira;

pursues the peasant bride, Zerlina; persuades his servant, Leporello,

to exchange cloaks with him so he can, in disguise, continue his

romantic conquests; and is eventually consumed in the fires of hell.

Performing as Massetto, the peasant husband, Crafts has been the

offended everyman, bewildered about the identity of Don Giovanni, the

man who has coveted his bride. As the murdered Commendatore, Crafts

has portrayed the man whose death does not sideline his participation

in the opera. As a statue, the murdered aristocrat galvanizes the

final vengeance on Don Giovanni.

The opera, which takes place in 16th century Seville, was first

performed in 1797. Its buoyant music depicts both tragedy and

hilarity. "’Don Giovanni’ is fascinating," Crafts says in a phone

interview from central New Jersey. "It’s a masterpiece. People always

ask if you went to a desert island what would you take. ‘Don Giovanni’

is definitely a desert-island disk.

"’Don Giovanni’ reflects the passionate nature of Spanish character,"

Crafts says. "If I had to choose one word to describe it, I would

choose the word ‘passionate.’ I mean that in every sense of the word.

Don Giovanni is passionate as one of history’s great lovers. And the

opera is passionate in the sense of bringing in all the emotions. No

one in it is just comfortable and standing around, saying, ‘This is a

nice day.’ Every character is in some kind of emotional trauma. The

opera starts with an attempted rape and a murder and goes on to

generate additional trauma."

To the core of high drama in "Don Giovanni" Mozart added comic

elements. "’Don Giovanni’ is also a comedy," Crafts says. "Mozart and

[his librettist] da Ponte conceived ‘Don Giovanni’ as a dramatic

comedy. They achieved that in an interesting way. Drama and comedy do

not alternate but happen simultaneously. You may be feeling

sympathetic towards a character talking about how she has been wronged

and betrayed, and in the same scene be laughing at another character."

The characters he is referring to are Donna Anna, whom Don Giovanni

has attempted to seduce, and Leporello, the disguised Don’s servant,

whose body is the wrong size for the Don’s cloak.

Crafts’ "Don Giovanni" for Boheme Opera is his first fully staged

production of the opera. He previously directed a semi-staged version

of the piece for Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, New York. He leaves

the time and place as Mozart and da Ponte imagined it, in 16th century

Spain. "It was the time of Spanish cape and sword dramas," he says.

Crafts leaks that he will be doing some unconventional things in the

Boheme production but he does not reveal precisely how he gets rid of

the Don at the end of the opera. Typically, the womanizer disappears

in flashes of light and smoke.

Part of his philosophy of staging, says Crafts, is teasing an

audience. "I like to play with the audience about what is real and

what is theater. For instance, I did an operetta where, at the end of

the show, there still was a character on stage sleeping. People came

onto the stage to sweep. A lot of audience members stayed in their

seats to see what would happen. They were uncertain about whether the

performance had ended. At some point you have to tell them. I’m not

doing that in ‘Don Giovanni,’ but it’s something I like to do."

For Crafts, the players, not the theatrical machinery, are key. "In

some productions the set or the lighting drives the performance," he

says. "My performances are very performer-oriented. It’s often a

necessity to be performer-driven, for example if you don’t have great

set. Performing, at its heart, is about human beings. Broadway

mechanics can be spectacular and fun. But if the performers are not

any good you won’t succeed even if millions are spent on mechanics."

Crafts was born in 1946 in New York City to artist parents. His

father, a watercolorist, was a university professor and played

clarinet in a marching band. His mother, who worked in various media,

was a teacher and a flutist. "My parents encouraged me in music,"

Crafts says. "Perhaps it was because of their artistic background. My

father had a good tenor voice, and as a bass, I sang in choral

societies with him when I was growing up."

The family moved to Orange County, California, when Crafts was eight,

and he and his sister grew up mostly in California. He started voice

lessons when he was about 15 and made his first public appearance in

an opera at 16. "I was an usher in ‘Rigoletto,’" he remembers, "and I

came in completely wrong. I sang the wrong rhythm and completely

messed up the part at my professional debut. If you’ve never been on

stage before, it’s a big new idea. I’ve had a 30-year career, and I

look back on that first performance in amazement."

Crafts graduated from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute in 1968 with a

bachelor’s degree in voice. After serving in the United States Army in

Okinawa, he won a Fulbright fellowship that enabled him to study in

Hamburg, Germany. Remaining in north Germany, he performed in

Flenzburg, Germany’s northernmost city, near the Danish border.

Residing in Germany gave Crafts a good start on the languages that he

thinks are essential to a singing career. His German is fluent and he

can manage in French and Italian. "When it comes to classical music,"

he says, "most of the literature is in a foreign language. German,

Italian, and French are basic. I also sing Hungarian, Czech, Russian,

Latin, and Spanish. Language is like math. There’s a talent gene; it’s

a brain function thing, I’m not good in math. But if you’re a singer,

you’re likely to do well with languages because you’re used to

reproducing and identifying sounds.

"Language skills for a singer are different from the language skills

of a linguist or translator," says Crafts. "We have to be able to

sound like we have that language. It doesn’t matter so much if we have

an accent in the language. We have to make ourselves understandable to

a native speaker."

After earning a master’s degree in opera stage direction from Indiana

University in 1976, Crafts served as head of the opera department at

the University of Nebraska for two years. His other academic

affiliations have included the University of Maryland, Baltimore

County; Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia; Hood College

in Frederick, Maryland; and Washington, D. C.’s Catholic University.

Along with his stints in academia, he has appeared as a vocalist at

the world’s major opera houses, and with major orchestras. He was the

founding artistic director of the Maryland Lyric Opera, where he

directed a dozen productions.

For the last two years, Crafts has been a stage director at

Baltimore’s Peabody Institute. His 2005 directing engagements span

Italian opera from the beginning of the 19th century into the 20th

century. He will direct Puccini’s "Suor Angelica" (1918) for the

University of Arkansas. For Oberlin Conservatory’s summer program in

Italy, he will direct Rossini’s first opera, "La Cambiale di

Matrimonio" (1810) and Mascagni’s "L’Amico Fritz."

Crafts lives in New York City with his wife, Heather, a

recently-retired teacher, who works in corporate event production.

Their son runs Fullmind, a Bordentown graphics design company.

Considered as theater, Crafts judges "Don Giovanni" as more advanced

than its historical period. "The concept of blending drama and comedy

is very modern," he says. "It’s unusual to find the blend in a work

written two centuries ago. "’Don Giovanni’ was ahead of its time as

theater. It was also ahead of its time in its understanding of

psychology."

— Elaine Strauss

"Don Giovanni," Boheme Opera, Patriots Theater at the War Memorial,

Trenton. Friday, April 15, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, April 17, at 3 p.m.;

pre-curtain talk at 1:45 p.m. Mozart’s opera, in Italian with

projected English subtitles. $25. 609-581-7200.


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