The orginator listened for laughs, the director counted the coughs, and the star of the show let it be known that he's only begun to act.
They were among 1,100 at the Kennedy Center last night for the world premiere of Mozart's "Don Giovanni." Joseph Losey's full-length feature film took two years and $7 million to complete, and with its English subtitles, it may prove that culture is a very marketable commodity indeed.
"Never, never, never, has anybody ever laughed during 'Don Giovanni' before. That's because they never understood a word of it," said Rolf Liebermann, director of the Paris Opera and the man whose idea it was to bring mass audiences and a heretofore aristocratic art together in movie theaters.
Joseph Losey, the Wisconsin-born director who fled to Europe during the early '50s, said he counted laughs as he sat in one of the boxes overlooking the audience. "There were four, but even the coughs were marvelous," he said.
Ruggero Raimondi, who flew in from Italy where he had given a concert only the night before, said that singing the title role for the film left him with an "empty" feeling.
"Now I want to try acting in other films, but not necessarily singing," he said.
All three and half a dozen others who starred either in the film or behind the scenes, were brought onstage to the introduced by Mrs. Polk Guest, chariman of the Friends of the Kennedy Center, which sponsored the premier as a gala fund-riser.
Earlier, Raimondi was still up in the air when 150 premiere-goers, who had paid $100 a ticket, were entertained before the showing at a French Embassy buffet.
Guests included the president and chairman of Gaumont, the French film company that co-produced the work with Camera One of French televison.
Tossan DuPlantier, Gaumont's president, said he and Nicholas Seydoux, chairman of the board, believe culture is a growth market: "Museums are full, operas are full, everybody in the world is going to these things."
So when Rolf Liebermann came to Gaumont and said he wanted to film an opera with them, DuPlantier said okay, but not for television.
"We wanted as filmmaker someone who was not at all involved in opera, and maybe even someone who had never been in an opera house."
The choice was Losey.
Liebermann said he had been convinced for years, that opera deserved a broader audience than most houses could hold. High prices and full houses restricted access for many. Others were just plain intimidated.
Liebermann said they chose the Mozart work because "the myth of Don Juan is international. Why, even my concierge would say the man in the corner apartment has seduced his daughter."
But Ruggero Raimondi, whose filmed protrayal of the tall, dark, handsome cad whose seductions ran into the thousands, insisted that he is not at all like Don Giovanni in private life.
"No, no, no nothing at all-I have had to be very good," he said, wagging his finger.
Later, at a post-premiere buffet supper in the Center's atrium, the Washington Opera Society's Martin Feinstein cornered Raimondi to line him up for a future appearance here. "With opera singers," said Feinstein, "you work three years in advance."
Tenor Kenneth Riegel, who sang the role of Ottavio, was the evening's star as far as his former buddies in the U.S. Army Chorus were concerned.
"I said he's left a legacy of Ken Riegel to the world -- it's like Caruso leaving his recordings," said George Pollins, a government marketing consultant here. "I'm his biggest fan."
Director Losey indicated he might still have some unfinished work to do on the film, particularly subtitles. And at least one person in the crowd had to agree:
"When you read something that says, 'it tears out my viscera,' it does make you wonder why the hell they didn't just say, 'It gives me a stomachache stomachache.'"
Mme. Francois de Laboulaye, wife of the French ambassador, gave the film her personal Oscar for being in "such good taste. Nothing was vulgar, not even the naked lady."