Mattei commands the stage in Met’s spring “Don Giovanni”

Fri Apr 05, 2019 at 11:52 am
Peter Mattei stars in the title role of "Don Giovanni" at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo; Marty Sohl

Peter Mattei stars in the title role of “Don Giovanni” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Marty Sohl

The Michael Grandage production of Don Giovanni currently in rep at the Metropolitan Opera is not holding up well. Debuted in 2011, it is blandly inoffensive, using modular tenement blocks on casters in a handful of configurations to define playing spaces, but offers little variety and less sense of place. Fortunately, the Met has enough musical resources to make a revival worthwhile, as was the case with the spring cast that opened on Thursday night.

This latest revival is held together by the singer in the title role: Swedish baritone Peter Mattei can seemingly thrive in just about any lead role, and his Giovanni is one of his best creations—charismatic and repulsive, energetic and pathetic. His rich, firm baritone can tackle the dynamic thrill of the champagne aria, but sounds just as at home in the seductive melody of “Deh vieni a la finestra,” with a legato voice like molten chocolate. Even the recitatives come to life in Mattei’s performance, as he gives them color and precise intention. He is a treasure onstage, no matter what he’s singing.

As his affable sidekick Leporello, Adam Plachetka gave a masterful comic performance, even if it was a little lacking musically. His catalogue aria showed a leathery sound, but the aplomb with which he delivered it was irresistible. His brilliant antics, all wrapped up in a weary-nice-guy act, brought much-needed energy to the second act, which can drag on through its series of half-funny mishaps.

Guanqun Yu impressed as Donna Anna, with a lively, clear soprano and energetic bearing. Her best singing came in “Non mi dir, bell’idol mio,” where she combined ringing brightness with cool, flowing color. As her lamented father, the Commendatore, Dmitry Belosselskiy boomed marvelously, and managed to be imposing in his climactic reappearance despite wearing what looked like an off-the-rack skeleton costume.

Pavol Breslik’s tenor felt a little heavy for Don Ottavio, and though he lightened up enough to handle the high register of “Dalla sua pace,” his role’s signature aria, he lacked the flexibility to deliver the music with real grace. Serena Malfi has sung Zerlina several times at the Met now, but her voice just doesn’t seem to fit the role: her portrayal of the young bride is charming and she showed a little warmth in “Vedrai carino,” but her upper register felt pinched all night, and was especially glaring in “Batti, Batti.” Kihwan Sim was a pleasant surprise as Masetto, showing off a rich bass in a role that is often barked all the way through.

After Mattei, the biggest name in the ensemble was Susanna Phillips. The American soprano has struggled in the last few years, after a brief moment when it looked like she’d become a regular star at the Met. Thursday’s performance was more polished and controlled than she’s sounded in a while, though she was obviously treading carefully: “Ah fuggi il traditor,” her brief warning to Zerlina, was perfectly secure, but lacking in fire. 

The Met Orchestra was in fine voice on Thursday, bringing a lively gleam to the score. Unfortunately, Cornelius Meister’s conducting left much to be desired: his pacing was consistently flabby, and a number of ensemble scenes were rough with the Act I finale nearly falling apart. It seemed like he and Breslik couldn’t agree on a tempo for “Dalla sua pace,” which is not an especially tough aria to follow. No doubt rehearsal is tight for a rep staple that’s been trotted out as much as this one has in the last eight years.

Don Giovanni runs through April 18 at the Metropolitan Opera. Paul Appleby sings the role of Don Ottavio in the final two performances.

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