Tuesday, September 27, 2011
The Story of Casanova
Be careful what you choose for casual reading. It may lead to a musical. That's what happened when Bill Mooney decided to tackle Giacomo Casanova's 12-volume, 3,700-page autobiography a couple of years ago. The deeper he made his way into the prolific, famous -- or infamous, depending on your point of view -- 18th-century paramour's pages, the wilder the tales became. And the more Mooney discovered Casanova's life was filled with much more than wooing women. "Everybody knows Casanova's name," Mooney said. "We use it all the time, either flatteringly or pejoratively, to describe some men. 'He's a real Casanova.' But nobody really knows anything about his life." What Mooney discovered, he said, is that Casanova was an intellectual and a writer. He wrote 43 volumes in all, including a translation of "The Iliad" into Italian. He was at home in 18th-century power circles, socializing with much of Europe's political and religious elite. He became rich by starting a lottery for King Louis XV, and he was a spy. "And in his spare time," Mooney quipped, "he loved women." Mooney was so inspired by the man behind the legend that he approached people in CU's School of Music about producing a musical comedy about Casanova. "Casanova at Twilight" plays at the ATLAS Black Box Theatre on CU's campus Sept. 23 through Oct. 2. Mooney wrote the book for "Casanova," and CU doctoral student Hunter Ewen composed its eclectic score, brought to life by a live orchestra that features piano, strings and percussion. "Casanova" director Valorie Goodall has assembled a talented cast. Along with Mooney, who plays the show's narrator, Old Casanova, CU Opera Program Director Leigh Holman will perform, as will Raouf Zaidan. Zaidan's performance is a homecoming, of sorts, as he starred regularly in CU Opera in the Summer's early days when the summertime program featured Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Also, local gender illusionist Jeffrey Kash will play two female roles in "Casanova." Mooney has a history with the university. He went to school in Boulder in the late-1950s -- he acted in the first season of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in 1958 -- before moving to New York City and cultivating a 35-year career on stage, television and in film. In the 1990s, he returned to Boulder to direct CU Opera in the Summer shows, and transitioned into a second career as a professional storyteller. When he first picked up Casanova's autobiography, he wondered if it might spark an idea for a one-man show. Soon, though, Mooney decided Casanova's life was too rich, and it needed to be told in musical form. Casanova was born in Venice in 1725. He began writing his autobiography, "Histoire de ma vie," in the 1780s, about a decade before he died in 1798. The work is regarded by scholars as an authoritative look at European life in the 1700s. For Mooney, the details Casanova described were a revelation. "Several people have written that the 18th century in Europe was very different (from today)," Mooney said. "Sex back in Italy during that day was about as common as blowing your nose. It's a good insight into why Casanova got his name."