Don Giovanni may be the most infamous character on the operatic stage. Women – married or otherwise – seem to melt in his presence and there is no rival when it comes to his powers of seduction. He is headstrong, greedy and cares nothing for his only loyal friend, Leporello, whose life he puts in constant peril. At the same time, Giovanni possesses a quick wit, charm and carefree spirit which seduces even the audience; causing us to forget, at times, that he is indeed the villain of the story. Lorenzo Da Ponte’s Italian libretto reads and sings like great poetry. This language paired with the genius of Mozart’s music lifts the audience in laughter one minute and has us on the verge of tears the next. This Metropolitan Opera’s Don Giovanni put on a traditional performance of Don Giovanni complete with period costumes from mid 18th century Spain.
Maestro Alan Gilbert traveled all the way from his podium at the New York Philharmonic to conduct his second opera with the MET. His experience in front of orchestras was evident in the overture which sounded slightly more refined than usual. His communication with the orchestra was impeccable and his approach to working with voices was gentle and greatly accommodating. Whether a singer or player, I’d imagine it a great joy to perform under Maestro Gilbert.
Act one opened with Leporello’s monologue “Notte e giorno faticar…” in which he resents his station as servant to Don Giovanni. Luca Pisaroni, usually an absolute pleasure to see and hear, sung this particular performance with a bit of complacency. The spark quickly returned in the second act which opened with the lively duet “Eh, via buffone…” His most musical moments came just after the act two sextet in his aria, “Ah pieta signori miei!” which, though brief, was sung with the utmost artistry. Mr. Pisaroni has sung his share of Leporellos which causes one to wonder if it isn’t time for a transition to the title role at this stage in his career.
Elza van den Heever was a surprise in the role of Donna Anna. Her first scene, in which Giovanni takes advantage of her and then kills her father, was rife with shrieking and terrible confusion. It was hard to listen to and certainly lacked beautiful singing. I am convinced, however, that this was a brilliant dramatic choice as every note sung thereafter was so acutely and painstakingly gorgeous. Ms. Van den Heever was somehow able to defy the boundaries of traditional performance to produce a sound that felt as if its origins were rooted in your soul. That sound was then projected effortlessly from the stage to the corners of the theater as a reflection of our inner most insecurities. Elza was intimate and refined yet consistently present and powerful. She brought an innocent and refreshing dimension to Donna Anna that I hope will be revisited for years to come.
Emma Bell sang the role of the scorned Donna Elvira. Ms. Bell was equipped with a luxurious voice sporting plenty of size and surprising agility. Her performance of “Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata” was really quite stunning. As wonderful as it was to hear her unique talent, I couldn’t help but imagine her as a Lady Macbeth or another more dramatic role.
Peter Mattei was a cunning and masterful Don Giovanni. His voice echoed the natural timbre of sweet seduction but had the power and versatility to inject a sinister overtone when appropriate. The duet “La ci darem la mano” which he sung to sway the young Zerlina from her husband to be, Masetto was an audience favorite partially thanks to his co-star, Kate Lindsey, who is a graduate of the Lindemann Young Artist Program. Peter Mattei accompanied by Joyce Rasmussen Balint made the audience swoon in his act two serenade “Deh vieni alla finestra.”
The Metropolitan Opera chose a fantastic production in Don Giovanni but may have faltered in some of its casting decisions. Elza van den Heever singing Donna Anna is more than worth the ticket price. I would also highly recommend hearing Emma Bell, a truly unique and memorable talent.
This production is running through March 6, 2015.