Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dionysian Don Giovanni Casts Orphic Spell

Mozart’s Don Giovanni
Metropolitan Opera - February 14, 2015

Final descent of the Dionysian Orpheus
Photo Credit: Met Opera
Lei: Peter Mattei yet again showed he’s one of the best Mozart baritones around and his smooth elegant voice creates a Don Giovanni who is effortlessly and inevitably irresistible. Every single sound that came out of Mattei’s mouth, be it a recitatif or an aria, was fluid, gracious, playful, mischievous and manly at the same time, and I very much felt the bewitching draw of his character. I totally understood and felt the pain of all the women in the opera who cannot resist the charms of Don Giovanni – if someone sang to me like that I would swoon and go Donna-Elvira-crazy too. This time more than ever I perceived Don Giovanni as a truly magnetic and Dionysian force of nature, that had me rooting for him throughout the opera in a very non-feminist fashion. 

Mattei turns on the charm
Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes
When Mattei delivered Deh vieni alla finestra serenading Donna Elvira’s servant, time just stopped, hearts skipped beats and breaths were held, with the hope to prolong the magic enchantment of the canzonetta. All this for a horny guy trying to lure his ex-lover’s maid into his arms to add another feather to his seducer’s hat – oh, the genius and beauty of Mozart’s music. Mattei’s Don Giovanni was also very physical: aggressively sexual (rummaging with a predator’s urgency under Donna Anna’s and Donna Elvira’s skirts), romantically tender (seducing Zerlina and carrying her in his arms), inexplicably honorable (kissing the hand of the Commendatore he just murdered), energetically playful (dancing around and bursting with energy in Finch’han dal vino) and tragically human (twisting in agony when he shakes the Commendatore’s ghost hand and faces death in the final act).

Peter Mattei is a man possessed
Photo Credit: Met Opera
Lui: Mattei’s buttery voice lent the character a unique appeal, as everything he sang was seductive. He cast his spell on everyone. He had all of the women eating of his hand, which is my favorite take on the story. Despite how much any of his victims are in denial, they are all pursuing him because deep down they find him simply irresistible. Even Leporello cannot help but fall under his sway. Mattei gave an extra jolt to the beginning of Act II in the way that he dispatched his lyric baritone. I was blown away by the way he beckons back his disaffected servant with the smoothest, honeyed call of “Leporello” I’ve ever heard. It was unreal. It was in that moment that I felt not just that he was playing the character not merely as a man possessed by a Bacchic devil, but rather as some kind of twisted Orpheus who is in possession of the gift of song and who is less interested in using it as a civilizing force to conquer the demons of hell than he is ready and willing to use it in service of his demonic libido. The result is a Dionysian Orpheus. Playing up Don Giovanni’s special endowment with the power of music and song is a revealing way to understand this character. More than rethink the questionable morality of the story, it led me to rethink the nature of the score and what Mozart might be doing musically with this legendary figure. Only a great singer like Peter Mattei can bring this level of the character. And what a pleasure and a privilege it was to catch him frolicking amidst the maidens at the top of his game.

Luca Pisaroni balances the books
Photo Credit: Met Opera
Lei: Mattei was so sensational that truly everybody else on stage, no matter how strong, felt secondary to him, though maybe that’s the core of a certain version of Don Giovanni when the Don is so irresistible. Leporello is one of Luca Pisaroni’s signature roles and it shows. His bass-baritone is effortless and smooth and blended beautifully with Mattei throughout the opera as his wingman / alter ego. This Italian singer really savors every single word and delivers his most hilarious lines with gusto. Pisaroni also has great comic tempo and was particularly hilarious in the terzetto at the beginning of Act II when fake serenading Donna Elvira (it’s actually Don Giovanni doing the talking while Leporello mimics the gestures of a half-hearted lover). Russian tenor Dmitry Korchak made his Met debut as Don Ottavio and, while not extraordinary or particularly heart-wrenching, his voice was strong, expressive, Met-filling and tender enough. At times it even soared a bit. I’ve heard much worse at the Met in this role and all in all enjoyed his performance. Soprano Elza van den Heever as Donna Anna was the strongest female singer of the night. She attacked the role with passion and the sheer power and musicality of her instrument were impressive. When we saw her a couple of years ago in her Met debut as Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda we were not as impressed but this time she really delivered a fierce Donna Anna. Donna Elvira played by soprano Emma Bell was also vocally strong, particularly in Mi tradi’ quell’alma ingrata and had good tragi-comic acting qualities, truly embodying female obsession with the irresistible Don Giovanni.

Peasant mirth before the Lord arrives
Photo credit: Marty Sohl
Lui: Kate Lindsey’s Zerlina just didn’t do it for me. She had moments, especially in Batti, batti, O bel Masetto where she was technically very precise, but her sound just did not seem to work, maybe because she’s a mezzo and this role is traditionally sung by sopranos. Her voice is far too trapped in the back of her throat and she didn’t have the lightness and effervescence of the flirty peasant Zerlina. Her husband Masetto by bass-baritone Adam Plachetka also felt technically accurate but lacked power and the raw abruptness and nervousness of his character. James Morris as the Commendatore put up a good fight in the opening scene but was not terrifying or thundering enough when he comes back as a ghost in Act II.

The Don makes a narrow escape in the Act I finale
Photo Credit: Met Opera 
Lei: Maestro Alan Gilbert’s conducting was sensational. The last time we saw Don Giovanni at the Met it was like the orchestra was only half there. Under Gilbert’s baton they attacked Mozart’s score with the kind of energy and enthusiasm that really brings this classic to life. It was a muscular and powerful show from the orchestra, and Gilbert seemed to also bring out the best in his singers. At curtain call the maestro even took the time to individually thank each of the singers, which was a very nice touch I’ve never seen before. I’d look forward to see Gilbert conduct more often at the Met, maybe once he’ll leave his post at the NY Phil he’ll have more time? A final word on Michael Grandage’s nice enough production: while the walls of balconies are very functional (they serve as streets, piazzas, cemetery and the Don’s palazzo) and at times pretty effective and all in all the direction is very loyal to the libretto, after seeing this same production for the third time I am definitely ready for a new one - though please have Mattei sing in it.

- Lei & Lui

The Don meets his match
Photo Credit: Met Opera

No comments:

Post a Comment