Voice Professor Makes Opera Directorial Debut in 'Don Giovanni' at JMU

College of Visual and Performing Arts
Don Giovanni

November 5, 2021 - Voice professor Dr. Jamison Walker is making his opera directorial debut in the James Madison University School of Music’s production of Don Giovanni, largely considered the greatest opera every written with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Featuring a cast of 25 undergraduate and 8 graduate students from the JMU Opera Theater, Don Giovanni takes places Friday–Saturday, November 12–13 @ 8 pm and Sunday, November 14 @ 2 pm in the Mainstage Theatre of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.

“I’ve wanted to direct opera for as long as I’ve been singing opera,” says Walker, who has performed in recital, opera, symphonic, and academic settings across the United States, Europe and Asia since landing his first fully-staged leading role as Conte Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia when he was 18 years old. Walker has “sung a lot of opera” in his nearly 30-year career, including the role of Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni in a dozen productions.

“Dr. Walker is just one of the most fantastic directors I’ve ever had the privilege of working with,” shares Megan Zuhowski, a first-year D.M.A. candidate studying vocal performance with Walker. “He shows us what we need to be doing on stage physically and musically.” Playing a lead character in her second Mozart opera, Zuhowski is singing the role of Donna Anna, the fiancé of Don Ottavio and one of three women wronged by the wicked behavior of Don Giovanni. Vocal performance majors Kirk Fenerty, a senior, and Darien Roby, a sophomore, are singing the role of Don Giovanni. Roby says, “It’s a shift to play such a narcissistic character.”

Based on the legend of serial seducer Don Juan, Don Giovanni was originally premiered by the Prague Italian opera in 1787 and was revolutionary for its depiction of women characters as the most powerful on stage, says Walker. “They controlled the action and were able to manipulate the events for better to meet their needs in a society where there was a perceived weakness.” Zuhowski adds, “The women in this production are strong and of themselves even though they were hurt by Don Giovanni and may have loved him.”

The show is set in the style of mid-1900s’ film noir or old movie greyscale with highlights of red. Those who have been affected by the wickedness of Don Giovanni will wear red in some fashion, which represents their sin—or the taint of having come in contact with Don Giovanni, whose evil character does not prevail in this opera. According to Walker, Don Giovanni is a great moral story that uses the title character as an example of how not to live your life.

The “masterful” music, sung in Italian with English subtitles, features a famous overture as well as duets, trios, quintets, sextets, and arias including “Don Giovanni, a cenar teco” and “Là ci darem la mano.” Rounding out the production is an opera orchestra of 21 undergraduate music students, conducted by Foster Beyers, director of orchestras at JMU, and graduate conductor Kim Souther. Walker says audiences will recognize the music and leave the theatre humming.

The JMU Opera Theater provides main stage and workshop opportunities for performance majors enrolled in B.M., M.M. and D.M.A. programs at the university. The program has attracted outstanding graduates and undergraduates from prominent national and international arts high schools, universities and conservatories. In recent years, JMU Opera Theater has presented critically acclaimed productions of La Bohème, The Barber of Seville and The Magic Flute. The singers perform regularly in international venues in Germany, Italy, Wales and England, and have been quite successful in university Concerto-Aria, National Association of Teachers of Singing and other national competitions. JMU annually hosts the first round of the Classical Singer competition and maintains an active and enthusiastic Opera Guild.

Tickets are $24–$25. For tickets, visit www.jmuforbescenter.com or call the Forbes Center Box Office at (540) 568-7000.

Don Giovanni Cast List

Don Giovanni | Kirk Fenerty (11/12 & 11/14), Darien Roby (11/13)

Leporello | Michael Richardson (11/12 & 11/14) Ben Gofton (11/13)

Donna Anna | Megan Zuhowsky

Donna Elvira | Nicole Jenkins (11/12 & 11/14), Hayley Zavada Coughlin (11/13)

Zerlina | Yige Tang (11/12 & 11/14), Grace Mead (11/13)

Don Ottavio | Miguel Espiritu (11/12 & 11/14), John Lopez – Najarro (11/13)

Commendatore | Kyle Knappenberger

Masetto | Grayson Parker


Soprano: Anna Valentino, Autry Harper, Kaylea Manners, Lauren Boyle, Sam Preece, Virginia Ballard

Alto: Amy Cajigas, Carly Titus, Caroline Lynch, Catie Moore, Gillian Saunders, Hannah Ramsbottom, Sarah Petko

Tenor: Brandon Morris, Daniel Bunting, Kurt Lanetti, Ricky Goodwyn

Bass: Cody Watson, Erek Valesky, Logan Blatt

Don Giovanni artwork by Jen Brookman.

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Published: Friday, November 5, 2021

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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