Saturday, October 15, 2011

Don Giovanni: Cogliere io vo’ il momento

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.


  1. I can't wait for the broadcast of this opera. What an interesting concept, to give the Don a stroke. I've always felt that that line of his "I love all women so as not to exclude any" could be a really interesting way of looking at the opera. Giovanni is a pig, but not so in his own, twisted way of looking at things.

    Any idea of what exactly happened to poor Mariusz Kwiecien? I heard that he hurt his back during the dress rehearsal, but it must have been really bad to take him out of the premier altogether.

  2. @Christie It's a super lineup, and of course this score is always a treat. I agree with you about the interesting potential of this idea about the Don's "philosophy," and wish the production had explored it more fully! I heard that Kwiecien had suffered a herniated disc. :( I had been looking forward to hearing him in the role.

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  4. A very detailed, accurate and generous description of the production Dottoressa Lucia (sorry, just back from Italy and am in that kind of mood), but you seem to imply (and I'll say outright) that it was borrrrrrrrrring. So much so, in fact as to almost ruin a superb musical evening that also featured some more than adequate individual direction and some fine dramatic performances (Mattei, Pisaroni, Frittoli).

    Almost but not quite hardly as it was indeed a most enjoyable evening. I've read some criticism of Luisi but I think you're description of his work spot on. I LOVE this opera but for this very reason have seen it far too many times and it can on occasion drag. At no point was that the case here and the musical excitement was sustained in spite of the drag of the production.

    Still, in light of the expectations and the appalling costs associated with the new production (which go into ticket prices, obviously - have you seen them - SHEESH - and rising by the week) the whole thing was quite disappointing.

    I'm sure you've seen Zerbinetta's Advent Calendar post and last year's Walkure and one has to wonder why they don't like, you know, give the singer SPACE to do STUFF. As it is there is less such space and sometimes less direction than in a concert performance and at much higher prices (have I mentioned the ticket prices?).

    I think I liked Erdmann less than you did. At first we could barely hear here (we were in the 8th row, kinda centerish) but she did improve and Vedrai Carino was something of a highlight.

    You're always hard on Frittoli but as much as I love her I have to concede once again that she is not invariably the model of consistency in respect of various technical aspects of her singing. She remains tonally, dramatically (and visually) quite appealing and for me at least always a pleasure to erfahren.

    After all that I'm probably going to try to go back (if I can find a bank to rob that has sufficient deposits to enable me to buy a ticket - have I said how expensive they are?) and Christie and anyone else just listening has a lot to look forward to.

  5. @marcillac Grazie tanto! Always a pleasure to receive one of your detailed and passionate comments. You would think, wouldn't you, that directors would be champing at the bit to get a Met budget and cast to play with? I'm hoping that, as this production ages, singers may play around more with it at their own discretion. The interesting bits of the Personenregie were encouraging.

    The contributions from the orchestra and singers (vocal and dramatic) were good enough for me to put aside my disappointment with the production, mostly. I do agree that Frittoli is tonally and dramatically appealing--I loved her interaction with Leporello at the end--and I suspect I have yet to hear her at her best. Fingers crossed for the second time around (and yes, I was forced to buy a real ticket for that one, and was shocked. Mostly my relation to the rising ticket prices consists in avoiding them as much as possible.)


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