The Met’s innovative and engaging new production of Don Giovanni features an outstanding cast

United StatesUnited States Mozart, Don Giovanni: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Metropolitan Opera, New York / Nathalie Stutzmann (conductor). Broadcast Live in HD to Dundonald Omniplex Cinema, Belfast, 20.5.2023. (RB)

The cast of The Met’s new Don Giovanni © Karen Almond

Production – Ivo Van Hove
Set and Lighting – Jan Versweyveld
Costume – An D’Huys
Projection – Christopher Ash
Choreographer – Sara Erde

Donna Anna – Federica Lombardi
Donna Elvira – Ana Maria Martinez
Zerlina – Ying Fang
Don Ottavio – Ben Bliss
Don Giovanni – Peter Mattei
Leporello – Adam Plachetka
Masetto – Alfred Walker
Commendatore – Alexander Tsymbalyuk

The Met: Live in HD Director – Gary Halvorson
The Met: Live in HD Host – Erin Morley

Producer Ivo van Hove and conductor, Nathalie Stutzmann were both making their Met debuts in this production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Van Hove is the Tony Award-winning director of A View from the Bridge and West Side Story. In this production he offered a new take on the opera using an abstract architectural landscape and with a focus on the darkness of the story. Stutzmann was a contralto and chamber musician before becoming a conductor. She recently got into a spat with the Met orchestra following comments she made in The New York Times, but they seemed to work together well in this production.

Van Hove updated the production from seventeeth-century Seville to the present day.  Jan Versweyveld’s set consisted of several brutalist buildings with winding stairways leading to dark hallways and alcoves. The Dutch mathematical graphic artist, M C Escher, provided the inspiration for the designs. The stage was in darkness and half lights for much of the production and at various points smoke rose from the floor underlining the infernal nature of the story. The men wore sharp suits while the women wore chic but plain modern dresses. There was an oppressive monochrome feel to the production which was only dissipated by the sunlight in the final scene.

In the interviews during the interval van Hove pointed out that the original title of the opera was, ‘The Libertine Punished’. He said that he wanted the audience to see the dark soul of the work including the predatory sexual behaviour and the unpredictable outbursts of violence. There was a significant amount of violence and bloodletting in this production. Don Giovanni shoots the Commendatore at the beginning of the opera and carries a holstered gun around with him, as do some of the other characters (a reference perhaps to the lack of gun control in the US). The Commendatore subsequently wanders around the stage as a ghost-like wraith with the wound in his chest clearly visible. When Don Giovanni attacks Masetto the latter’s face is covered in blood. The overall conception of the work was brilliant and added fascinating insights into the opera.

However, there were also some missteps which detracted from the production. In the ballroom scene at the end of Act I, most of the cast were dressed in suits and modern dresses while Anna, Elvira and Ottavio arrived wearing eighteenth-century costumes. Mannequins in eighteenth-century costumes were placed in the alcoves of the buildings. The mismatch in the costumes and the use of mannequins was odd and it was not convincing or effective dramatically. There were also a few scenes where characters were supposed to be in disguise, but their faces were clearly visible. The scene where Elvira supposedly mistakes Leporello for Don Giovanni became increasingly bizarre as she could see Leporello’s face the whole time.

Ana Maria Martinez (Donna Elvira), Federica Lombardi (Donna Anna), Ben Bliss (Don Ottavio), Alfred Walker (Masetto), Ying Fang (Zerlina) and Peter Mattei (Don Giovanni) © Karen Almond

The cast were quite simply outstanding and were firing on all cylinders throughout. Peter Mattei seemed to physically inhabit the role of Don Giovanni. He achieved a perfect balance between the seductive and the more dangerous elements of the character as he moved seamlessly from a ravishing seduction of Zerlina to a violent attack on Masetto. Mattei brought a cultivated elegance and a whiff of superiority to the performance although the underlying malevolence was never far from the surface. Mattei’s singing was exquisitely beautiful throughout. He brought silky legato phrases and a gorgeous tonal lustre to ‘La ci darem la mano’ and to the serenade in Act II. The ‘champagne aria’ in Act I was delivered with vibrancy and gusto.

Don Ottavio is often portrayed as a rather conflicted and reluctant avenger in this opera. Ben Bliss portrayed him in a much more assertive and edgy way. In doing so he made the relationship with Donna Anna seem much more credible. He sang ‘Dalla sua pace’ with exquisite lyricism and sustained the extended lines beautifully. Bliss added a number of very tasteful embellishments to ‘Il mio tesoro’ and gave a supremely elegant performance. Adam Plachetka’s Leporello was more of a reluctant accomplice than a partner in crime to Mattei’s Giovanni. He brought much needed levity and humour to this very black production. He sang very well although he could occasionally have been tighter rhythmically. He worked well with his orchestral partners and brought a winning exuberance to the catalogue aria. Alexander Tsymbalyuk was powerful and authoritative as the Commendatore while Alfred Walker gave an accomplished performance although he did seem a little old to be playing Masetto.

The three female leads were impressive in their respective roles. Federica Lombardi’s Donna Anna was a fiery, sensual figure. Lombardi’s singing was full of dramatic intensity and blazing top notes. She produced a ravishing sound and highly polished coloratura in ‘Non mir dir’. Ana Maria Martinez captured the complex contradictions in Elvira’s character and did an excellent job navigating the demanding leaps and coloratura in the vocal line. Her performance of ‘Mi Tradi’ was good although I would have liked her to bring a little more lyricism to the vocal line. Ying Fang’s Zerlina was feisty and assertive, and she brought out the playful elements of the character extremely well. She sang with a vocal purity and beautifully modulated colours.

Nathalie Stutzmann is a singer herself and she was very attentive to the needs of the cast. The pacing of the material was spot on, and I liked the slightly slower tempo she adopted for ‘La ci darem’ as it allowed more space for this most sensuous of seductions to take place. The orchestra fired on all cylinders throughout the performance and there was an excellent balance and rapport with the singers.

Erin Morley proved an engaging host for this Live in HD production. In her interviews with the singers, she brought out fascinating insights about the characters and the approach they had taken to this production. There was also an interesting interview with van Hove and Versweyveld where they explained the approach they had taken to this production.

Overall, this was a highly innovative and engaging new production of Don Giovanni featuring superlative singing from a first-rate cast.

Robert Beattie     

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