Atlanta Opera reimagines Mozart's opera 'Don Giovanni' in the style of film noir

Mozart's famous opera "Don Giovanni" is reinterpreted by the Atlanta Opera in film noir style at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. (Cory Weaver)

Mozart’s famous opera “Don Giovanni” follows the exploits of a scandalous character who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. The story is reinterpreted in a new production by the Atlanta Opera in the style of film noir. The opera will be on stage at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre Jan. 21-29, and director Kristine McIntyre joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to share more about her take on the classic.

Interview highlights:

Don Giovanni, a man broadly accomplished in iniquity:

“When we first meet Don Giovanni, he is in the process of attacking Donna Anna, a noblewoman who actually lives quite close to him. He’s essentially at home, so it’s quite shocking. He escapes by killing her father in the street in front of her house. So the opera starts very violently and we’re sort of right in it with him. What seems to be the next morning, he and his servant or compatriot Leporello are talking and suddenly encounter what immediately appears to be an unknown woman, but turns out to be one of Don Giovanni’s former lovers, Donna Elvira, who yells at him for having abandoned her. And then in very short order, Don Giovanni sets about attempting to seduce a young bride.”

“In short succession, we see him with three different women, and Act One culminates at a party at his house where Donna Anna and Donna Elvira come to unmask him, essentially, and let the world know exactly what he’s been up to and he makes a very narrow escape. In Act Two, the Don disappears for quite some time. The second act starts with a wonderful trio where he convinces Leporello to seduce Donna Elvira in disguise as him, while Don Giovanni tries his luck with yet another woman. We see the Don encounter the statue of the man he has killed in a graveyard and the statue appears to agree to come to dinner — a very weird and unearthly occurrence. And then the opera finishes back in Giovanni’s ballroom — in this production, it’s actually his nightclub — where the spirit or the statue of the Commendatory, the man whom he killed back in the first act, comes to get him, and Giovanni meets his end.” 

On reimagining “a very challenging character to put on the opera stage”:

“Certainly in our modern times, and especially in the wake of the ‘Me Too’ movement, this is a very challenging opera to wrap one’s head around. We can’t go through the entire opera hating Giovanni, it makes for a very long evening in the theater,” said McIntyre. “It occurred to me that one thing we’re very good at in America, and especially in American cinema, is anti-heroes, and specifically the anti-heroes of film noir. And I thought if we could look at Giovanni through that lens, maybe that gave American audiences a way in.”

She added, “It lets us off the hook, in a way. We know he is gonna get it in the end. We know that there are dark elements of his past, and that a good noir film always ends with the anti-hero bleeding out. So, you know, we can sit back and enjoy the ride, and in fact, we are fascinated with men like this, and that seemed to be a pretty good take on a challenging piece.”

Clever noir adaptations in set, costume and character design:

“The way we’ve turned Don Giovanni into noir is to sort of reimagine it set in an American city in the 1950s. The entire production is black and white; all the costumes, the scenery, and we light it very much like noir,” McIntyre explained. “In terms of the characters, then, Giovanni becomes the classic noir anti-hero. He wears a rumpled tux and a fedora and an overcoat, and he smokes and he drinks, and he seems to be above the law and outside of society in fascinating ways. Donna Elvira then becomes the ‘femme fatale.’ Every great noir film has a great femme fatale — think of women like Barbara Stanwyck in ‘Double Indemnity’ — and so we’ve dressed Elvira in a wonderful white suit, and she too drinks and smokes, and she gets the gun in her hands at one point, and she makes a great foil for him.”

The Atlanta Opera presents Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Jan. 21-29. Tickets and more information are available at