Met Opera's "Don Giovanni": Meanwhile, Back in Hell

"Don Giovanni" in Hell
(photo: Met Opera) 

A serial womanizer on the brink of self-destruction? Sounds as though ripped from the newspaper headlines...of 1787. We may have been all-consumed these past months with the fiery political campaigns, which have left many of us feeling as though we were living in one endless hell, but for its current HD broadcast, the Metropolitan Opera has chosen a popular favorite as a partial antidote. The opera is about that womanizer, namely Don Giovanni, one of Mozart's finest works, first performed in 1787 in Prague, reaching American audiences about forty years later. While true to the libretto by Lorenzo DaPonte, it simultaneously breaks new ground. The opera has had its champions over the years, from Tchaikovsky to George Bernard Shaw to Stendahl, blending as it does the comic and serious into what Mozart himself called a “dramma giocoso” or jocular drama. It's a story portraying the timeless battle of the sexes and classes.. Don Giovanni is still the narcissistic playboy, still the self-destructive sex symbol, who will ultimately meet his dramatic comeuppance, as indeed will certain politicians.

In a recent issue of Opera News, the plot was summed up in a single sentence, paraphrased here: In Seville, the servant Leporello (bass-baritone Adam Plachetka) keeps watch as his master, the titular bed-hopper Don Giovanni (baritone Simon Keenlyside) is pursued by a lover, Donna Elvira (soprano Malin Bystrom), whom he spurned, a husband, Masetto (bass Matthew Rose), of a woman he assaulted, Zerlina (mezzo Serena Malfi), a noblewoman, Donna Anna (soprano Hibla Gerzmava), who spurned him and whose father, the Commendatore (bass Kwangchul Youn), he killed, and her fiancé Don Ottavio (tenor Paul Appleby); but it's the murdered man's graveside statue that finally drags the unrepentant philanderer down to hell. That's it in a nutshell, with almost three hours of glorious music.

As with virtually all of Mozart's twenty-two operas, however, it's not the plot that matters most; it's all about the music, both sung and played. The company excelled in both of these departments, with memorable contributions by the Met Opera Orchestra led by Conductor Fabio Luisi and the singing by the entire cast, a varied ensemble. Every one of the principals gets a chance to shine in a solo aria or two, and none disappoint. Keenlyside, who makes an unforgettably dashing figure in the title role, almost manages to make us forgive the Don's excesses with his superb voice and believable acting. All three women are equally memorable, with Bystrom, Malfi and Gerzmava each delivering lengthy arias in great displays of technique and sound. The same could be said for Rose, Youn and Appleby in their supporting roles. The hit of the performance was probably Plachetka's Leporello which is perhaps as it should be, though it's a tough call in such an excellent cast as this was.  The Production was by Michael Grandage, with technical aspects suitably in harmony, from the Set Design and Costume Design by Christopher Oram to the dramatic Lighting Design by Paule Constable. The HD Host was Joyce DiDonato and the HD Broadcast Director was Matthew Diamond.

This was one of the company's best offerings, with a score full of hit tunes and a cast that really delivers them.

Fathom Events will have an Encore presentation next Weds. Oct. 26th at a theater near you.

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