Sunday, October 30, 2011

Met - Don Giovanni - 10/29/11

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Producer/Director: Michael Grandage
Don Giovanni: Mariusz Kwiecien
Leporello: Luca Pisaroni
Donna Anna: Marina Rebeka
Donna Elvira: Barbara Frittoli
Zerlina: Mojca Erdmann
Masetto: Joshua Bloom
The Commendatore: Stefan Kocan

Just as I was planning my Mozart marathon for yesterday, Don Giovanni in the afternoon and the Requiem in the evening, I was kind of lamenting the fact that I wouldn’t have many opportunities to spend time outside enjoying fall in New York City, my favorite time of the year. Well, it turned out that yesterday was the perfect day for indoors activities as thousands of buckets of rain and then snow were continuously falling onto the city from morning to night (!?). So much for bonding with nature.
After he had to withdraw at the last minute from the first few performances due to an emergency back surgery, young Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, the star of this new Met production of Don Giovanni, showed steely determination by promptly getting back on his feet and on the stage this week. So I went ahead and tried to show the same steely determination when looking for a precious ticket, even though all the dates were sold-out. And I finally succeeded too!
Mozart’s last and most ambiguous opera lends itself to so many interpretations that any occasion to watch a new take on it is always an exciting endeavor, never mind the kind of elements you have to brave to get to it. Therefore, I decided that after overcoming the ticket shortage, no untimely winter storm was going to keep me away from a date with this Don. And once again, determination paid off.

Centered on the universal myth of Don Juan and achieving an adjustable combination of comedy and drama, Don Giovanni also boasts a magnificent score that allows each character to take center stage without outshining the others. Granted, the whole thing can be a bit messy, but the music is constantly there to smooth over the occasional narrative deficiency with the utmost Mozartian grace so that the final result, in the right hands, leaves the audience fully satisfied.
A super-juicy part like the world’s most famous seducer can be as tempting as daunting, but Mariusz Kwiecen hasn’t wasted any time grabbing it and making it his very own, as if coming so close to missing on it has fueled up his resolve. And it has to be said that his first appearance, a fireball of lustful energy wearing form-fitting tights, an open shirt and a mask, was so striking that it instinctively made me wonder why Donna Anna did not just relax and delight in the moment instead of fighting him like a madwoman, sparing herself the heart-breaking death of her father by the same token. Eventually I realized that he was singing too. Even more, his voice was strong and genuinely engaging, solidly assertive when ordering Leporello around, attractively lyrical when trying to woo his various preys. Obviously relishing to the fullest a role that is fast becoming his calling card, he delivered a steadily spontaneous and nuanced performance.
While I was watching Venezuelan bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni dutifully but resentfully tower over his master as the hapless Leporello, I couldn’t help but think what a splendid Don Giovanni he could be. His singing was assured and bright, his presence real and charismatic; he’s definitely got the right stuff. His colorful Leporello was a real treat.
As the ever-patient Don Ottavio, Mexican tenor and Met regular Roman Vargas drew big waves of applause for his two major arias and his curtain call, all totally deserved. Slovakian bass Stefan Kocan was a deeply powerful Commendatore, although it would be advisable to do something about his blue face and Halloween-style shirt.
The three ladies all fared pretty well, especially Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka, a newcomer with a lot of potential, who sang the role of Donna Anna with notable clarity and intensity. Veteran Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli exuded the right mix of dignity and desperation, vividly highlighted by her ardent singing. German soprano Mojca Erdmann was a sweet Zerlina, and formed a cute couple with Australian bass Joshua Bloom, a charming Masetto.
The set, consisting essentially of two movable walls lined-up with balconies, was in earthy tones and appropriately versatile, if not particularly imaginative. Also, some worthy concepts did not seem to go far enough to be fully realized: The appearance of women at some of the windows during the famous Catalog aria was an amusing touch, but you wondered why there were not more of them considering the context. Another, more frustrating, half-baked idea: The statues in the cemetery were all displayed on three levels, but because the Commendatore was standing on the top one, only the bottom half of his body was visible to the Family Circle section, which made everybody there miss his gesturing during the dinner invitation scene. On the other hand, kudos for a red-hot descent in hell!
The music, of course, is Don Giovanni’s strongest point, and the Met orchestra did full justice to the glorious score. Fabio Luisi, who has recently added the title of Met’s appointed principal conductor to his impressive resume, drew a vibrant, detailed performance from his musicians and pleasantly fulfilled the harpsichord duties during the recitatives. Add the inspired singing from the all-around winning cast, particularly remarkable when vocal ensembles were seamlessly meshing with the orchestra, and you have the perfect remedy to take your mind off an unexpected, and ultimately gross, winter afternoon.

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