James Conlon turned 64 on March 18. That, in any case, is what biographical sources claim. Somehow it doesn’t ring true.
He looks youthful, acts youthful. He obviously commands boundless energy, backed by endless enthusiasm for the far-reaching projects that occupy his waking hours — and, probably, his sleeping hours as well.
In casual conversation, he admits that certain aspects of his life, personal and professional, have begun to change. “I used to be the youngest person in the room,” he reflects. “Now I’m the senior presence.”
Conlon’s relationship with Ravinia began in 1977, not long after his Met debut. He became official music director of the festival in 2004, after he stepped down from his post as principal conductor of the battle-scarred Paris Opera.
Mozart’s theater pieces, virtually all of them, have long been a central component in Conlon’s Ravinia repertory. This summer, the honors fall to Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro. Two performances of each will take place within the appropriately intimate confines of the Martin Theatre, capacity 850. It happens to be the only Ravinia building that remains from the park’s original 1904 construction.
Both operas are performed concert-style, without sets and costumes. Still, the stage directors on duty — Harry Silverstein and David Lefkowich — convey the drama at hand economically, with entrances and exits, props and gestural characterizations. “These guys,” Conlon says, “have done Mozart operas here in the past. They know the space and how to make it work. They know the operas, and [pregnant pause] they know me.”
He feigns horror when asked if the Ravinia stagings reveal novel concepts or take interpretive liberties, as is the dubious fashion in modern productions elsewhere these days. “Mozart is the centerpiece,” he declares. “We are interested in first-rate Mozart, not in distortions that drag us to strange places or clashing environments.”
Don Giovanni, at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 and 1 p.m. Aug. 16, with Christopher Maltman as the Don and David Bižić as Leporello; Tamara Wilson (Donna Anna), Aga Mikolaj (Donna Elvira), Ailyn Pérez (Zerlina), Saimir Pirgu (Don Ottavio), Jonathan Michie (Masetto) and Kristinn Sigmundsson (Il Commendatore)
Le nozze di Figaro, at 7 p.m. Aug. 15 and 1 p.m. Aug. 17, with John Relyea (Figaro), Lisette Oropesa (Susanna), Soile Isokoski (Countess Almaviva), Stéphane Degout (Count Almaviva), Renée Rapier (Cherubino), Marie McLaughlin (Marcellina), Kristinn Sigmundsson (Bartolo), Rodell Rosel (Don Basilio), Benjamin Bliss (Don Curzio), Simone Osborne (Barbarina) and Paul Corona (Antonio).