Met debuts brighten up a dour “Don Giovanni”

Thu Jan 31, 2019 at 2:10 pm
Aida Garifullina as Zerlina and Luca Pisaroni in the title role of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl

Aida Garifullina as Zerlina and Luca Pisaroni in the title role of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl

It was a night of debuts at the Metropolitan Opera Wednesday, as Don Giovanni opened for the season with three singers and the conductor making their company bows.

Michael Grandage’s utilitarian 2011 production, this time with Luca Pisaroni as a smooth and haughty Don, was enlivened by new faces and voices in the roles of Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio, and Zerlina. Debutante conductor Cornelius Meister kept the show moving along smartly, with some lovely moments and only a few bobbles in the score’s three-hour span.

The location of the opera’s action was as ambiguous as ever in this production, with the libretto’s many locales simplified into a street scene and a ballroom (and a graveyard more metaphorical than realistic), as Christopher Oram’s simple unit set slid apart and back together. A first-time viewer of this opera might wonder, for example, why aristocratic lovers were doing their horizontal thing in the street.

The casualness of the mis-en-scène put the burden of making it all believable squarely on the singers, quite a challenge considering the endless ambiguities of this dramma giocoso. The directorial solution seemed to be to emphasize the dramma, with Giovanni’s farcical seduction schemes coming off as more painful than funny.

But that choice imposed requirements of its own, the main one being some psychological insight into the characters. Pisaroni’s Don was firm of voice, cut a fine figure onstage, and had quite a repertoire of seducer’s moves—but one never sensed the way his brain circuits lit up at the sight of a woman, much less what inner hurt might drive his sex addiction and his abuse of his servant Leporello.

That character, a Sancho Panza-like everyman caught up in his Don’s hare-brained schemes, usually inspires more laughs and sympathy than one felt for the morose interpretation of Ildar Abdrazakov on Wedneday, tinged with Russian pessimism and the overall un-giocoso atmosphere of this production.

The uncomplicated jealous rage of Masetto at Giovanni’s seduction of his bride Zerlina is useful dramatically as a foil to Don Ottavio’s ambivalence at being asked to kill somebody to revenge his slain prospective father-in-law—but only if those psychological states are projected more clearly than they were Wednesday by Brandon Cedel and Stanislas de Barbeyrac, respectively.

So, with humor and psychology both on the back burner, the spotlight was on Mozart’s incomparable music and singing, singing, singing. Cedel’s baritone was certainly up to the job as Masetto, and Met debutante de Barbeyrac had two fine outings in the tenor arias, floating tender pianissimos in “Dalla sua pace” and finding some heroic grit in “Il mio tesoro.”

Top vocal honors for the evening seemed at first to belong to Federica Lombardi in her Met debut as Donna Elvira, her sterling soprano filling the room with finely inflected phrases. Her characterization of the jilted woman fell in the awkward middle between avenging angel and tearful mess, but her singing sold it, especially late in the evening with the resolutely irresolute aria “Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata.”

Rachel Willis-Sørenson as the revenge-focused Donna Anna sounded underpowered in the early scenes, but blossomed into a penetrating tone and effortless coloratura, culminating in her big moment in the opera’s next-to-last scene with “Non mi dir.”

In another Met debut, Aida Garifullina seemed just right as Zerlina, singing sweetly and earning some acting credits both as the deer in the headlights of Don Giovanni’s sexual come-on and as a bit of a seductress in her own right, artfully taming her fiancé Masetto’s jealous rage.

From a purely vocal standpoint, Pisaroni gave good measure in his stand-and-sing numbers, especially the delicately phrased serenade “Deh vieni alla finestra.”  Bass Štefan Kocán as the Commendatore bravely defended his daughter’s honor to the death, then three hours later gave a fearsome and hollow-toned performance as the statue that came to dinner.

Horns and brass overwhelmed the strings in the overture, but after that conductor Meister redeemed his Met debut with brisk pacing and sensitive support for the singers.

Don Giovanni runs through February 20. A new cast performs April 4-12 with Peter Mattei, Adam Plachetka, Guanqun Yu, Susanna Phillips, Serena Malfi, Pavol Breslik and Paul Appleby, Kihwan Sim, and Dmitry Belosselskiy. metopera.org; 212-362-2000.


One Response to “Met debuts brighten up a dour “Don Giovanni””

  1. Posted Mar 13, 2019 at 8:47 pm by G. M. Kibbe

    Shamefully, I came only to view Aida, as would any 78 year old, smitten by the radiance she splashed across my screen.

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