Eric McKeever

Eric McKeever

Eric McKeever will play the titular role of Don Juan when the Indianapolis Opera brings “Don Giovanni” to town March 20-22 at the Toby Theater at Newfields.

The Chicago native said it was a role he couldn’t pass up.

“I jumped at the chance,” McKeever, 49, said. “As an African American baritone, there’s not a long history of us being able to sing that role. He’s a noblemen, super handsome and suave, and sometimes African American baritones get typecast as the servant character. There aren’t a lot of examples of people like me singing that role. … I had to say yes.”

To aid audience members during the production — which is in Italian — English subtitles will be projected on a screen above the stage. 

According to McKeever, this practice started in the 1980s when opera companies made an effort to make the art form more accessible to American audiences.

“Opera is basically an incredible foreign film come to life,” he said.

While McKeever comes from a musical family, it wasn’t until he saw “Salume” by Richard Strauss when he was 18 that he decided to become an opera singer. When he received his bachelor’s degree at Capital University and his master’s at Ohio State University, however, McKeever didn’t see a lot of representation for African American men in the programs. 

“Being an African American opera singer, when I started in school, there weren’t a lot of us,” McKeever said. “There weren’t a lot of people for me to follow. There’s a strong tradition of African American women [in opera], but now, it’s very exciting seeing so many African American men succeeding in this very difficult field. … We’re no longer afraid of putting an African American male on stage in a relationship with someone from a different race, and we’re understanding that diversity in this old art form is a way to keep it vibrant.”

McKeever looks forward to seeing how modern audiences react to the centuries-old play, which focuses on several relevant issues today, including class structures and misogyny. Mozart composed music for the play and Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote the story, basing it off of the legends of Don Juan written by Tirso De Molina.

“I think what’s really fascinating about Don is I definitely have my opinion about him as me, Eric McKeever, but as a performer, I can’t make a decision,” he said. “I have to play his truth … I want [audiences] to have a visceral reaction to his actions and the story. It will be interesting to see how a 21st century audience views this character.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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