In the world of opera's most famously amorous libertine, Don Giovanni, a solid, flexible, fight-worthy rapier comes in handy. It's the best way to fend off all his conquests' husbands, lovers and fathers. By the time the first act of the opera is over, the Don has already dueled and killed one poor gent, the elderly commandant who dies defending the honor of his daughter, Donna Anna. As Portland Opera gears up for its own version of Mozart's Don Giovanni (which opens this Saturday, May 13), it's up to Ian Hewitt to create or find the right tools for stage carnage. The property manager for Portland Opera, Hewitt works in the Pearl District in a spacious old warehouse, a one-man realm stuffed with hat boxes, bird cages, musical instruments, chairs, weapons and any other props that an opera production might call for. WW interrupted him, while he was making a durable plaster replica of a woman's shoe, to find out the bloody truth behind all that sweet singing.
WW: What's with the dainty shoe?
Ian Hewitt: It's one of the Don's trophies. He'll show it off while he brags a bit of his conquests.
According to some sources, Don Giovanni seduced 2,065 women, so he'd certainly have needed a reliable weapon to fend off pursuers now and then.
I've made three rapiers for this production, but that wasn't a big job. I had to make 32 swords for Macbeth, which Portland Opera presented back in February.
Do the weapons need to look authentic?
Yes. I spend time on the Internet looking at replicas from www.swordsanddaggers.com, www.a2armory.com, eBay and www.darksword-armory.com to get the right idea of the sword I need to make. Then I go to Home Depot and get all the materials like flat aluminum, vertical blinds and copper pipe couplings and make the swords here. It's a lot less expensive and more fun. I've got a drill press, band saw, lathe and other equipment that gives me the ability to create the props. It doesn't matter if it's wood or metal.
How did you learn how to do all this?
I grew up on a farm in Australia. When something like the machinery broke down, you couldn't run to the nearest catalog, you had to fashion a remedy from what you had on hand.
What about this picture of you and Placido Domingo on your wall?
He liked to thank all of the people who worked on a production. One time I found him in the bowels of the Met, where he was telling dirty jokes to the guys who built the scenery. Those guys are pretty rough. Some of them are so wild they'd probably eat their young. But Domingo is in a class of his own.
What's been trickiest to build?
For The Tales of Hoffmann I made a walking stick that needed a big crystal diamond light on the top, and when you pushed a tiny button, the bottom of the stick would explode.
, Portland Opera at the Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 241-1802. 7:30 pm Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, May 13, 16, 18 and 20. $37-$133.