Amid a plethora of painted shutters and dancing peasants, it was the Don himself who brought the color and life to Thursday's Don Giovanni at the Met. Michael Grandage's staging was Sevillian and serviceable. The lighting by Paule Constable reflected the progress of the unfolding day, and used chiaroscuro to suggestive effect, echoing the plot's preoccupation with identity mistaken and revealed. The casinetto is a richly appointed townhouse among the many which slid into different configurations as the action progressed. The opulent eighteenth-century costumes (Christopher Oram) made social distinctions clear. But, although the production was not entirely unreflective, I still found it somewhat unsatisfying. It was clear that Grandage was aware of the gender and class hierarchies shaping the plot, but his own ideas on these subjects weren't strongly developed in visual terms. Many episodes of the dramma giocoso were played--I thought--too close to comedy, but that may be largely a matter of taste. I found the hellfire of the finale grotesque rather than terrifying. Fine singing and exciting orchestral playing made for a dramatically engaging evening, but I wish the production had been helping more.
The Met orchestra and Fabio Luisi gave a vigorous account of the score which did not sacrifice detail to its generally fast tempi. From my vantage point, I couldn't see Maestro Luisi moving between podium and harpsichord, but transitions occurred seamlessly. The chaos of the party in the Act I finale was handled brilliantly. Delicacy in intimate or introspective sequences was savored, and the ominous chords of the Commendatore were delivered with bone-shaking relish. (To those around me who whispered during the overture: now you know the fate of malefactors; I hope you are suitably chastened. To those who were hastening down the aisles before the closing ensemble... be warned! Be warned!)
The singers had good chemistry with the orchestra and with each other. I feel that "winsome" is probably a criminally overused adjective when describing Zerlina, but Mojca Erdmann's portrayal really was. Her soprano came across as bright and assured, and a slight edge mellowed over the course of the evening. Her initial flirtatiousness with Don Giovanni was not played in a way that felt inconsistent with her tenderness for Masetto. Erdmann's "Vedrai carino" was tender, seductive, and charming. Joshua Bloom was a standout as Masetto, with supple, expressive singing and good characterization, with a bitter "Ho capito, signor, si" which had me instantly on his side. As Donna Anna, Marina Rebeka contributed fine, agile singing, although her performance didn't really ignite for me until "Or sai chi l'onore." A vagueness in the development of her relationship with Don Ottavio may be more a fault of the production than either of the singers. The Don Ottavio of Ramon Vargas was clearly serious and principled, as well as tender and affectionate, perhaps a little older than the puppy-like young man he is sometimes portrayed as. Vocally, Vargas sounded a bit worn or weary, but he showed very fine musicianship. He sang both the Vienna and Prague arias, with beautiful finesse in "Dalla sua pace," and noble resolution in "Il mio tesoro intanto." Don Ottavio may always be ineffectual, but I liked him a lot more in Vargas' interpretation than I usually do.
It may be my destiny to always hear Barbara Frittoli in roles with murderous opening arias. Her hat in Elvira's opening scene seemed a tribute to this one. At the outset, her intonation seemed a bit uncertain, her vibrato a bit wide. By Act II, however, she had settled in: her tone seemed fuller and more solid, and she gave a "Mi tradi" which was astonishingly good. Her dramatic confidence was admirable; her Elvira was passionate and compassionate. I look forward to hearing her again later in the run. I was frankly delighted by Luca Pisaroni's Leporello, who could be rascally, but was never malicious (the German word burschikos seems apt.) He seemed to take a little time to fully warm up, but sang stylishly throughout, and his comic timing was faultless. The complexities of his relationship with the Don were well-handled, and his genuine terror at the finale gave it much of its emotional impact, for me.
Peter Mattei's Don was incredibly charismatic, with a gorgeous vocal and dramatic portrayal. Indeed, his character was the most intriguing thing about the production to me: a reckless and selfish sensualist, driven (it seemed) by the desire to deny the power of death. He tries desperately to prevent, and then to ease, the death of the man whose daughter he has just assaulted; a chilling scene. At the conclusion, I wondered whether he was being defeated by the natural or supernatural; before the Commendatore's entrance, he manifests symptoms of (I think) stroke. Monster though he is, I found myself very moved by this half-lamed man, with palpitating heart, defying death even as his body fails him. This interpretation made of the Don's declaration to Leporello that he loves all women because of the desire not to exclude any a philosophical credo rather than a flippant remark. His behavior may be monstrous, but it is not cynical. His attention to text was excellent throughout, but I must single out "Deh vieni alla finestra," which had me trying to process its vocal finesse while somewhat dizzied by the impact of its sensuality. Mattei sings on the 17th and 22nd of this month, after which Mariusz Kwiecien is expected to resume the role in full health; tickets here.