Swoon-worthy gay baritone Paulo Szot injects tons of sex appeal in Dallas Opera’s pulpy ‘Don Giovanni’
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor [email protected]
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St. Oct. 22–Nov. 7.
Tickets from $25.
If you ever wanted to know how important casting is to the success of a play or an opera, consider this: If Don Giovanni, the most notorious lover in history, isn’t swoon-worthy onstage, there’s no chance an audience will lose itself in fantasy.
That is not a problem when you have Paulo Szot in the role. Szot effortlessly smolders with swagger and charm. In leather pants and pencil moustache, his chest heaving from under an iridescent cape, he looks like a superhero from the 1940s.
That’s fine with John Pascoe, the director and designer of this production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni — he wants you to think of a pulp romance novel cover when you see it.
“He’s like George Brent or Errol Flynn,” says Jonathan Pell, artistic director of the Dallas Opera, marveling at Szot’s graceful charisma. You totally understand how Don Giovanni was able to woo so many women.
In person, Szot himself is as compelling as his character, but disarmingly humble. And he’s not a womanizer at all — he and his partner have been together 10 years, sharing their home on the edge of the Brazilian rainforest with their four Weimaraners.
“I built that house three years ago — it is my dream home,” Szot says, eyes twinkling. “But I get to stay there, like 10 days. I miss my dogs, but I talk to them on Skype. They listen to me.”
It would be difficult not to listen when Szot talks — or sings. One of the most gifted baritones of his generation, Szot rocketed to international fame when he took on the role of Emile de Becque, the reclusive plantation owner who falls for an American farmgirl, in Lincoln Center’s 2008 revival of South Pacific. Szot won a Tony and the hearts of everyone who heard him sing “Some Enchanted Evening” and, even more thrillingly, “This Nearly Was Mine.”
“The main song [for Emile] is ‘Some Enchanted Evening,’ but somehow ‘This Nearly Was Mine’ became the 11 o’clock number,” Szot acknowledges. “It was magical for me; I’m very glad so many people liked it.”
Szot — already an in-demand opera star — was originally scheduled for only a six-month run in the role due to opera commitments, but extended it to more than two years (with brief departures for opera gigs), appearing only recently in a TV simulcast on PBS’ Live from
Lincoln Center. His appearance with the Dallas Opera represents his first full opera performance since leaving Broadway, although in between he pursued another dream: Singing at the Carlyle Hotel in New York.
“That was very new for me,” Szot says. “I’ve always wanted to sing songs I would sing to my friends in my house. It was so intimate, and in such a famous place. I’m coming back in February.”
From opera to musical theater to cabaret, Szot wants to do it all — and so far, he seems to be succeeding. Though the skill sets are different, he sees the line between these musical art forms blurring.
“The biggest difference [between opera and Broadway] is the number of performances. In opera, you rely on your throat and can’t sing eight shows a week. But microphones allow some control — that’s a wonderful thing. And Emile only has like 14 minutes of singing, though he’s constantly onstage, and there’s the dialogue.”
Szot agreed to do South Pacific not only for the Broadway experience, but also to tackle one of the few leading-man parts for a baritone; tenors usually get to be the hero. But ultimately, Szot’s fine with the more villainous parts. He concedes that Don Giovanni doesn’t get the best numbers in the show, but there are other benefits.
“I think those characters, not the good guys, are more interesting,” he says. “They are more colorful — particularly the Mozart ones.”
This production has captured even his attention. He’s enchanted by the costumes and the direction, and says he’s bringing many of the skills he learned in two years of South Pacific to the role.
“I’ve always wanted to do different kinds of music — I didn’t grow up choosing between one another. The techniques differ from singing before 200 in a cabaret and 4,000 in The Metropolitan. But it’s all a dream come true for me.”
Trust us, Paulo — we’re livin’ the dream with you.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.