The Moment - Elvira in #UncleJohn (Against the Grain Theatre)
by Miriam Khalil
I will talk about Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni or her new incarnation in #UncleJohn as just Elvira.
The moment is Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata- the big second act aria that is very often cut because it can seem like an add-on and somewhat out of nowhere. In this new English trans-adaptation this aria is called 'He betrayed me and abused me'.
Leading up to this moment, Elvira is jaded and hurt. In act 2, she is tricked into thinking that Uncle John is in love with her through misleading texts. She later discovers that these texts are actually from Leporello and not Uncle John. This is where her character takes a huge shift. The realization that she has been tricked should in fact make her more jaded and more angered and hungry for vengeance, but it doesn't. For some reason, she forgives him and wants to save him instead.
How and where does this shift begin?
I think it's there from the beginning but the external shift starts to reveal itself at the beginning of act 2. A different light is shed on Elvira when she actually falls for the switch in identity. She wants to believe it. She wants it to be true and as a result her true feelings are awakened and she realizes that although she has been deceived by this man again, she has no choice but to love him and to save him. There is no going back for her. The accompanied recitative that takes us into the aria is so full of turmoil and tension. Her disbelief that he could be such an awful person, that she could still love him and finally, how can she save him. We are watching a character truly come to terms with herself, with what she has been trying to deny from the moment we hear her tumultuous music.
I prepare throughout act 2 for this moment. As a singer, I know that this is an extremely demanding aria, so I start to pace myself vocally. As an actor, I start to soften the person that the audience is watching to show them how vulnerable Elvira is. She is no longer funny or scheming, she is simply a woman that is in love, and genuinely afraid of being hurt. When the reveal happens during the sextet (she finds out that it was Leporello not John), she is appalled. However, she is appalled not by the fact that she was deceived, but that she fell for him...again. What is she thinking??? Each line of the recit leading into the aria is a new revelation to her. I breathe in each thought and exhale each revelation. This slows down each moment in my mind and I can start to unravel the knots that she has been in since the beginning of the opera and for the first time, we see her hopes and we see her light. We see why she was so special to him and we hope with her.