Randal Turner jokes that the semi-shirtless photos on his Facebook page would be appropriate for our publication – which he keeps wanting to call Between The Sheets in honor of the whore he’s portraying in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” The opera singer is performing as the murderous womanizer on April 10, 14 and 17 (he’s sharing the engagement with Robert Gierlach) in the Detroit Opera House’s production.
“I’m trying to restore the theater into its former glory as softcore porn,” he laughs. Being that this is his big U.S. debut, what a way to leave an impression on Americans. His work alone should be enough to win over audiences, considering he has experience sexing up the ladies … because he’s already appeared as Giovanni in an Italian showing (and also because, well, “I had my experience,” he laughs). That production, however, was more modern than the Detroit Opera House’s take. This time, then, it shouldn’t cause a mad dash to the nearest exit.
“That was a production that people either loved or absolutely hated,” he recalls. “Some people were walking out after the fourth scene.”
That Giovanni is a nutcase might have something to do with it.
“Look at all that he does in a 24-hour period,” Turner says. “He just lies to people’s faces to get what he wants. But people do that today. People do that all the time. And I don’t know if it’s the Italians not wanting to look at themselves or think that it’s not true or that they’d rather have their Giovanni be a rascally rouge instead of this guy who tries to bed, like, seven women in one day after killing someone.”
The Detroit version is “beautiful,” according to Turner, who’s anticipating wigs and capes. He says that only one murder sets up Giovanni’s daylong downfall.
“I interpreted it, when I did it before, that this is not necessarily an abnormal day for him; it happens all the time,” he says. “But in this production, which is very interesting, it starts off with that murder and it just sets into madness at the end.”
Turner’s endeavors didn’t exactly start off the same way. Murder was not involved. Or that many women. But 20 years ago he left behind the U.S. – including his home state of Indiana – for Europe, where he performed in a plethora of productions that were “good to great to not so great.” He was the lead in many of them.
In 2002, he made his Italian debut as Escamillo in “Carmen.” Not long after, he appeared in the Italian premiere of Andre Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” one of his most memorable career moments even if, as he recalls, it wasn’t for the audience. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and singing in “La Boheme,” both performed in Italy, were other high points.
“I was honored and a bit flabbergasted to be singing ‘La Boheme’ in one of the great theaters in Italy, and also (to have performed) at the Rome opera – that’s a beautiful opera house, huge and wonderful acoustics.”
Sure beats mowing a three-acre yard and growing corn, which is what Turner did as an Indiana farm boy. Between baling hay and raising cattle, he sang in a church choir – that, along with the opera music his grandparents would play, inspired him to turn to a musical career.
He spent two years at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan – which, he says, “it was there that I realized that I really wanted to be an opera singer” – before heading to Indiana University.
After leaving for Europe in 1990, he returned to the U.S. six years later, residing in New York City for a short bit, only to find, well, nothing.
“The new opportunities in the states go to the apprentice people from, like, The San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Metropolitan,” he says. “They should be the priority,and I hadn’t really done that much in Europe. So the agents were like, ‘Why did you leave Europe?’ and after a few months I was like, ‘Yeah, why the hell did I leave Europe?'”
Good thing he headed back to Switzerland, where he currently lives: He met his partner, a furniture store owner in Zurich who’s not involved with theater in the least – “although, he can be very theatrical,” Turner notes.
A dramatic gay man? Imagine that.
Detroit Opera House
1526 Broadway Street