Gerard Gauci is the set designer for Opera Atelier’s new production of Don Giovanni that opens October 29th in Toronto. I ask him ten questions: five about himself and five about his work.
1) Which of your parents do you resemble (what’s your nationality / ethnic background)?
Both my parents’ families came to Canada from Malta in the 1920’s and 30’s. I’m told that I look very much like my father who died almost 30 years ago. I see the resemblance more every day.
2) what is the BEST thing / worst thing about what you do (designing sets for opera productions)
The best thing about designing for Opera Atelier is having the opportunity, year after year, to work with Marshall Pynkoski. He has an enthusiasm that is infectious and he continues to be the most creative and inspiring person I’ve ever met. Marshall and I have worked together for twenty five years. Our interests and tastes are very similar and when working together we always know exactly what the other is talking about. That makes for a very smooth and enjoyable creative partnership. We also share a lot of laughter as we work.
The worst thing about my job is not having three hands. This is a very hands-on company and I continue to make many of the props and scenic pieces that appear on stage. A few more hours in the day wouldn’t hurt either.
3) who do you like to listen to or watch?
I don’t have a television and rarely go to the movies. I listen mostly to classical music, particularly the French baroque masterpieces of Rameau, Couperin and Lully. Lately my partner has developed a real interest in French popular music from the 30’s and 40’s so the apartment is frequently filled with the voices of Josephine Baker, Tino Rossi and Charles Trenet. Mostly I read, and right now I’m enjoying the memoirs of the Duchess of Devonshire and a stack of Barbara Pym novels.
4) what ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I wish I had the ability to type. When I went to high school the only academic choice one had was between Art, Music and Typing, which the administration seemed to feel were all of equal value. This of course, means that answering these questions is taking much longer than it should.
5) when you’re just relaxing (and not working) what is your favourite thing to do?
My hobby is scouting auction houses. I find it has an irresistible pull that combines the thrill I imagine one must get from hunting and gambling (neither of which I’ve ever tried). I have certain things I collect (like 19th c. silhouettes) and finding new additions to the collection is always great fun.
Five more concerning the set design for Don Giovanni.
1) how does the execution of this design challenge you?
For me the most challenging part of designing Don Giovanni has been dealing with the scene where the Don is dragged into hell. The audience must instantly be transported from the dining room of the dissolute nobleman to a burning inferno. As quickly as the scene appears it must also disappear.
Whether or not it’s historically accurate, this is surely the best six minutes in Milos Forman’s Amadeus: adapting this very scene from Don Giovanni.
2) what do you love about Don Giovanni and collaborating on a production?
What I love most about Don Giovanni is the story that embraces all the complexities of human nature and includes elements of the supernatural. The collaboration involved in mounting a theatrical production is my favorite part of the design process. I actually have two careers. As well as designing for the stage I also work as a painter exhibiting my work here in Toronto and in Montréal. That work is necessarily solitary and private and enjoyable in its own way. Work in the opera however, involves the needs and combined efforts of many people. I always learn so much from these people. I meet fascinating personalities, both craftspeople and performers and I get to exercise the other half of my brain.
3) is there a favourite part of the opera: something you’re especially looking forward to seeing on your set design?
My favorite part of the opera is the scene in which the Commendatore’s statue makes his entrance. The scene switches from the comic, with Leporello slavering over the dinner he’s not allowed to touch, to the serious when the tables turn on the Don and he is taken by the hand screaming into hell. I will have the Commendatore enter through immense glittering mirrored doors which, by the end of the scene, will disappear to reveal the gaping maw of the hades.
4) how do you relate to this opera’s world as a modern man?
I find the opera easy to relate to as a modern man. While the characters are broadly drawn, each one embodies a facet of human nature that is recognizable to all of us. These characteristics may not be flattering but we can laugh or cringe or nod at them because they’re familiar. I also find Mozart’s music timeless, both tuneful and incredibly moving. There is nothing anachronistic about the score which always sounds fresh and exciting.
5) is there a design (or production) for Don Giovanni that you particularly admire?
I still have a great affection for the first Don Giovanni I ever saw. It was the 1979 Joseph Losey film starring Ruggero Raimondi and Kiri Te Kanawa. I had never before seen such opulence on the screen…….. the magnificent costumes, the spectacular settings especially those filmed in Palladian villas in and around Vicenza. The fiery scene in the glass factory beautifully presaged the descent into hell and the scene on the stage of the Teatro Olimpico was for me, unforgettable.
Losey’s version of the Commendatore scene.
Gerard Gauci’s new design of Don Giovanni can be seen in the Opera Atelier production opening October 29th at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto.