“Don Giovanni” revival offers middling Mozart at the Met

Wed Sep 28, 2016 at 1:36 pm
Malin Bystrom as Donna Anna? and Simon Keenlyside in the title role of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" Tuesday night at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl

Malin Byström as Donna Elvira and Simon Keenlyside in the title role of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” Tuesday night at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl

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.

8 Responses to ““Don Giovanni” revival offers middling Mozart at the Met”

  1. Posted Oct 22, 2016 at 5:19 pm by Mary G. Johnson

    Ah…it was better than this particular critique. We loved it here in Tralee in County Kerry when it was broadcast into our Omniplex. Live opera albeit through the medium of cinema is such a treat for us that we just sit back and enjoy every note of it!

  2. Posted Oct 23, 2016 at 7:54 am by David Johnstone

    Rather disappointing ,lacklustre production of Don Giovanni last evening ,having seen much better productions in past years.
    1.Simon Keenlyside badly miscast as the “Don” -too old,unsexy
    and dwarfed by the remaining taller males in the cast.Should have been
    a strapping buccaneering mischevous-looking 30 year-old flirt.
    Simon’s straggly hair most unsexy and he should have worn a
    2. Scenery very boring and utilitarian – should have reflected the
    rococco grandeur of a gentlemans palazzo instead of an
    advent calendar on wheels
    3. The Commendatore ,though passable could have looked more
    ominous,threatening and indeed more frightening perhaps by
    having a cowl obscuring more of his face,making less
    movement – the best I have seen have communicated and
    gestured much more sparingly from a stone plinth – more like
    a street ‘frozen living statue”
    4.Too minimalist stage furnishings and props – The Don’s dining table could at least have had gold or silver candlesticks,flagons,bottles plates etc.
    5. The singing and acting was generally very enjoyable but oh
    dear – The Don should have been pensioned off and cannot
    imagine any young women falling for him so easily !
    This used to be one of my favourite operas with lovely memorable arias ,scenery etc but the drab unimaginative
    settings allowed one to become bored with far too many
    repetiitve re-statements of the singers individual ,simplistic
    statements of their own situations- I feel that particularly in the
    first Act,such analyses could have been reduced by a half.

  3. Posted Oct 26, 2016 at 11:27 pm by Adriana Ttafford

    I totally agree that the set ” of those unwelcoming stacks of shuttered windows” leaves much to be desired.

  4. Posted Oct 27, 2016 at 11:04 pm by Suzanne

    We all adored this performance as played in Los Angeles area “encore ” cinemas last night. Delightful antics were well staged and every voice was flawless. We could ‘t help wishing Mozart himself were present to enjoy this immensely satisfying performance. Simon Keenlyside wowed the entire audience throughout the night. We just couldn’ t get enough of him! It’s Met performances like this that make us reach deep into our pockets and contribute to the Met so that they will keep delivering this kind of brilliance!

  5. Posted Oct 31, 2016 at 6:39 pm by Doreenatherton

    Watched this performance at our local cinema complex. I could not reconcile the title role of a smooth seducer of beautiful women, with the rather elderly greasy haired Simon Keenlyside. I am afraid that although the singing was first rate, the very drab and unimaginative set detracted from the enjoyment of the performance.

  6. Posted Nov 20, 2016 at 6:22 am by Steven

    All of above opinions granted, yet harsh. In Cape Town we experienced this cast , singing and acting as superb and would like see Don Ottavio in a role where he is more comfortable in the acting part. However the lack of a more illustrious set focused the attention to the inner struggle of Don Giovanni representing the darker sides of his complex personality. The “advent calender” might have doubled up as and struck as a symbolic representation of houses of ill repute .

  7. Posted Dec 04, 2016 at 1:29 pm by Diana Barraga

    Don Giovanni, Met, viewed in Sydney 4.12.16. Altogether loved it. Too long though. Leporello & Donna Anna by far the best. The Don…no, not suitable vocally & physically. The tenor very heartfelt but he tired. Didn’t mind the plain staging. Can’t wait for the next one. Di

  8. Posted May 12, 2017 at 1:14 am by Mike

    Very disappointed with the production of this don giovanni. Very minimalist and the end scene was poorly done. The statue wasn’t even a statue! Boo!

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