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Erwin Schrott happy to sing Leporello in The City

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Erwin Schrott is making his San Francisco Opera debut in “Don Giovanni.” (Courtesy Uli Webber)
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San Francisco Opera’s announcement that bass-baritone Erwin Schrott would replace the ailing Marco Vinco as Leporello in “Don Giovanni” is a win-win: The opera lands a renowned Mozart interpreter in his company debut, and the singer gets to revisit one of his more cherished roles.

Schrott is not only indelibly associated with Leporello, Don Giovanni’s indispensable servant, but with the title role as well; he has performed both on multiple occasions, including a 2008 Metropolitan Opera production in which he was the Don and bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo was Leporello. The two are swapping the roles in the San Francisco production, which opens today.

“Both of the characters are so close to me, not only because of the characters but because I love Mozart so much and feel so connected to his music,” Schrott says. “I wanted all my life to sing Mozart and roles like Don Giovanni, Leporello, Figaro, the Count (Count Almaviva, also of “The Marriage of Figaro”); it is like a dream that I am living with my eyes wide open.”

The Uruguayan-born Schrott, 44, has methodically planned his career by gradually enlarging his repertoire, first concentrating on Mozart, then expanding into Puccini and Verdi in his 40s, careful not to rush into a role before he was ready for it, but also prepared to accept challenge and risk.

“For a career like this one, you cannot commit that many mistakes with your voice, with your vocal condition, with your vocal opportunities and your instrument,” Schrott says. “You really have to be in control of what you are going to do in the future, because we have only one instrument, and if that instrument is damaged, it’s going to be very difficult to repair.”

Schrott already has taken on the opera’s ultimate devilish character, the brooding title role of Boito’s “Mefistofele,” or, as Schrott fondly calls him, “Mr. Evil.” (He admires Robert Carsen’s 1989 production in San Francisco and would love to sing that role with SFO should it be revived.)

He also is working on Scarpia in Puccini’s “Tosca” and looks forward to tackling Wagner, and the title role in Berg’s “Wozzeck” in his 50s, while staying aware of his limits.

He says, “Rossini, Mozart, Bellini and Donizetti are the composers who remind me where to place my voice again in order for it to not get too heavy, because when you start to play these dark characters, you can be as intelligent as you want, but the character makes you turn your voice into a cave of darkness, and it is very bad for the voice. My teachers told me you have to sing with your voice exactly as it is without trying to fabricate one that is not yours.”

Schrott already feels connected San Francisco and is excited to perform in San Francisco for the first time: “I’m thrilled to be here, in this city, the story about this place, just thinking about being at the War MemoriaL. I’m feeling welcome as if I have been here all my life,” he says.

IF YOU GO
Don Giovanni
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 p.m. June 4 and June 11; 7:30 p.m. June 8, June 13, June 16, June 21, June 24 and June 30
Tickets: $26 to $398
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

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