“Don Giovanni” revival offers middling Mozart at the Met
Talk about an anti-climax. The night after the Metropolitan Opera opened its season with searing performances in a challenging new production of Tristan und Isolde, they followed it up with a revival of Don Giovanni that was wholly unremarkable.
Nothing about this Giovanni stood out as particularly egregious; but not much stood out as particularly excellent, either. A serviceable cast, satisfactory direction from the pit, and a drably competent staging: these ingredients are enough to fill a space on the calendar, but hardly make for a memorable night at the opera.
The return of Simon Keenlyside, whom illness has kept off the company’s stage in the past several seasons, was at least an intriguing storyline. He played the title role well, strutting brazenly about the stage and showing fine musicianship in his singing. His voice, as ever, feels a size too small for the Met, and at times he seemed to be pushing to make up the difference.
The night’s finest performance came from Malin Byström, playing Giovanni’s old flame Donna Elvira with firm resolve and singing with warm, full tone. Hibla Gerzmava, too, was admirable as Donna Anna, the citric brightness of her voice contrasting nicely with the gloomy disposition of her character.
Adam Plachetka clearly has the comic chops for Leporello, one of the most lovable rogues in the buffa rep. At his best, he showed a strong, rough-grained but consistent tone, particularly in a winning rendition of the Catalogue aria. He struggled mightily with low notes, though, and was inaudible in much of the Commendatore scene as a result.
The Commendatore himself, Kwangchul Youn in Tuesday’s performance, was admirable even if one might have wished for a little more boom in his voice. As Masetto, Matthew Rose filled out his role with blustering indignation, though sometimes gestured towards pitches rather than truly singing them.
Serena Malfi, Tuesday’s Zerlina, owns an instrument with plenty of color and volume, and in many of her recitatives, as well as the duet “La ci darem la mano,” she charmed with her free-flowing lyricism. Sadly, she would follow a lovely recit by pushing far too hard in an aria, as when she clobbered the top of “Vedrai, carino.” Paul Appleby’s usually golden tenor was taxed by the role of Don Ottavio. He sounded insecure in “Dalla sua pace,” struggling to maintain a consistent sound through the ends of his phrases.
The Met Orchestra, under Fabio Luisi, started off well, chilling the auditorium with the opening chords before letting the overture burst into its graceful wit. There were many moments of sparkling clarity throughout the night, but there were nearly as many moments when Luisi seemed to be letting a scene get away from him.
Michael Grandage’s 2011 production does the job, albeit with little apparent enthusiasm. The pointedly unwelcoming stacks of shuttered windows trundle obediently about the stage, forming tidy, mostly bare playing areas. The costuming is all perfectly fine for a period piece, though it is peculiar that the Commendatore in the climactic scene more closely resembles a spooky skeleton costume from the Halloween sale rack than he does his own statue.
It’s not unusual for a huge company like the Met to show a little repertory fatigue in April; when complacency sets in on night two of the season, it’s more troubling. With so many exciting revivals lined up for the remainder of the season, we can only hope that Tuesday’s lukewarm Don Giovanni was a fluke.
Don Giovanni runs through May 11 at the Metropolitan Opera. A second cast starring Ildar Abdrazakov, Malin Byström, Amanda Majeski, and Nadine Sierra opens on November 1. A third cast starring Mariusz Kweicien, Erwin Schrott, Matthew Polenzani, Isabel Leonard, and Angela Meade opens on April 26, with Plácido Domingo conducting. metopera.org.