The Metropolitan Opera – Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni – Opera in two acts to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte [sung in Italian with Met Titles by Cori Ellison]

Leporello – Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Donna Anna – Krassimira Stoyanova
Don Giovanni – Erwin Schrott
The Commendatore – Phillip Ens
Don Ottavio– Matthew Polenzani
Donna Elvira – Susan Graham
Zerlina – Isabel Leonard
Masetto – Joshua Bloom

Dennis Giauque (harpsichord continuo), David Heiss (cello continuo) & Joyce Rasmussen Balint (mandolin)

The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Louis Langrée

Marthe Keller – Production
Michael Yeargan – Set designer
Christine Rabot-Pinson – Costume designer
Jean Kalman – Lighting designer
Blanca Li – Choreographer
Gina Lapinski – Stage director

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 1 October, 2008
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, New York City

Louis LangréeWith Mozart specialist Louis Langrée conducting, the Metropolitan Opera gave a superb performance of Marthe Keller’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. At the head of a stellar cast was Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott who, in voice, appearance and action was the perfect embodiment of the lascivious Don. There was palpable sexual chemistry between him and the women he seduces – especially soprano Isabel Leonard’s fetching Zerlina – as well as a delightful camaraderie with his servant, Leporello, portrayed by Ildebrando D’Arcangelo.

Schrott, who is enjoying a highly successful international career, brings good looks and fiery temperament to the role of Don Giovanni, much as he did last season at the Met in the title role of “Le nozze di Figaro”. Beginning with the opera’s opening scene, and seemingly at every opportunity thereafter, Schrott bares his chest, emphasising the Don’s overwhelming appeal to virtually every woman he encounters. (One wonders whether Peter Mattei will do likewise when he takes up the role next April.) Schrott’s characterisation captured successfully not only the Don’s sexual magnetism, but also such other traits as charm, slyness and cruelty. Vocally, Schrott’s bass voice was warm and resonant, with an unstrained, lyrical glow when serenading a prospective conquest, a ready jocularity in his dealings with Leporello, and plenty of power in more serious dramatic moments.

Susan Graham as Donna Elvira and Erwin Schrott as Don Giovanni. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan OperaAll three of the opera’s female principals – representing the present, past and future objects of the Don’s affections – gave excellent performances. Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova was Donna Anna. Her purity of tone and accuracy of intonation were outstanding, winning ovations for her ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ in the first act, and ‘Non mi dir bell’idol mio’ just before the finale. Susan Graham was a convincing Donna Elvira, wavering between bitterness at having been deserted by the Don and renewed ardour for him, both of which emotions were dramatically conveyed in her stirring aria, ‘Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata’.

Isabel Leonard, a native New Yorker who grew up only about a mile away from the Met, was a spectacular Zerlina in every respect: a lively, ringing vocal quality, fine musicianship, and a combination of beauty and dramatic talent that made her romantic exchanges with the Don really sizzle (as in their duettino, ‘Là ci darem la mano’), and gave her reconciliation with Masetto (‘Batti, batti, o bel Masetto’) a genuine tenderness.

Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Leporello. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan OperaItalian bass Ildebrando D’Arcangelo portrayed an engaging Leporello whose comedic expression and timing enlivened his ongoing sparring with his demanding master. In Leporello’s running commentaries on much of the action, D’Arcangelo’s humorous words and gestures connected with the audience, drawing frequent laughs even as his fine bass voice provided harmonic underpinning to the other characters’ vocal lines. Whilst D’Arcangelo gave his fine account of ‘Madamina! Il catalogo è questo’, perhaps the best known aria in the opera, Graham, as a shocked Donna Elvira, carefully tore “her” page from the catalogue and tucked it safely away in her bodice.

Krassimira Stoyanova as Donna Anna and Matthew Polenzani as Don Ottavio. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan OperaTenor Matthew Polenzani sang Don Ottavio with a sweet purity, his breathtakingly beautiful pianissimo in the second verse of ‘Dalla sua pace’ a particular highlight. I found his characterisation to be rather stiff, but I have had the same reaction to every Don Ottavio I have ever seen – dating back to Jan Peerce in the early 1960s – so I am convinced by now that the problem lies in the opera itself. Polenzani made a fine contribution in ‘Protegga il giusto ciel’, sung by the vengeance-seeking Don Ottavio, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, with the orchestra’s woodwinds beautifully augmenting the trio. He also gave a lovely account of ‘Il mio tesoro’ in the second act.

Australian bass Joshua Bloom, making his Met debut in the present run, brought a rich bass voice and a sympathetic characterisation to the often put-upon Masetto. He was effective both in comedic interaction with the disguised Don Giovanni and in his romantic scenes with Leonard’s Zerlina. Canadian bass Phillip Ens was a vocally powerful and awe-inspiring Commendatore.

Final Scene with Joshua Bloom as Masetto, Isabel Leonard as Zerlina, Susan Graham as Donna Elvira, Krassimira Stoyanova as Donna Anna, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Leporello, and Matthew Polenzani as Don Ottavio. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan OperaLouis Langrée is well known to New York audiences as the music director of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival since 2002, although he did not make his Metropolitan Opera debut until last season (in “Iphigénie en Tauride”). In the “Don Giovanni” overture, Langrée tended to favour the hefty over the airy, as if to serve notice that the opera would not be merely a lightweight entertainment. He was in good command of the performance, holding all of the musical elements together quite well – especially at points in the score where there were orchestral lines independent of the vocal lines coming from the stage. He also was adept in managing the scenes that featured on-the-stage musicians.

Keller’s production, which was first performed in 2004, represents an improvement over its Franco Zeffirelli predecessor. More realistic than abstract, it accommodates the opera’s action without ever diverting the audience’s attention away from the performers and the music. Michael Yeargan’s set features tall panels of an orange-brown brick design that slide back and forth across the stage to accomplish the frequent scene changes that the opera requires, with just enough realism to suggest each succeeding locale. Only in the scenes in Don Giovanni’s palace at the end of each of the opera’s two acts and in the cemetery is there much in the way of decorative detail or props.

Christine Rabot-Pinson‘s attractive costumes provided colourful touches, such as in Zerlina and Masetto’s wedding party, and served effectively to enhance the story line – for example, when Don Giovanni and Leporello exchanged clothes to deceive Donna Elvira. Jean Kalman’s lighting effects often were rather dark, sometimes more so than the plot line seemed to demand.

  • The first performance of “Don Giovanni” this season was on September 27
  • Further performances are scheduled on October 4, 10 & 14, 2008
  • Lothar Koenigs will conduct performances (with some cast changes) on December 1, 5, 9, 13 & 19
  • Louis Langrée returns to lead additional performances with a new cast in 2009, on April 13, 16, 20 & 24
  • Metropolitan Opera

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