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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Live Simulcast Coverage: Into the Fire

Opening Night: Don Giovanni from the Met.
Not appearing tonight: Kurt Moll as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni
Image © 1989 Salzburg Festival/Deutsche Grammophon.
PREGAME SHOW:
7:12pm: So we're trying this LiveStream technology again, this time with the opening night of Don Giovanni. The stream should be up at 7:30pm but there's no pre-show this time with Met radio broadcast announcers. So I'll just provide some background.
7:18pm: Energy hustlers in cheap uniforms with clipboards at the front door of my Brooklyn co-op, trying to solicit personal information from my neighbors. Actually had to hold the door shut and wait for them to leave. Not like my servant invited them to dinner or anything--although the idea of people in disguise getting into the house is central to Don Giovanni.
7:20pm: The Met has had bad luck with Don Giovanni. I've made this point before. But this new production, mounted by Michael Grandage has had it worse than most. The first casualty was music director James Levine, who went down with a back injury after a fall on Labor Day Weekend. He's been replaced by Fabio Luisi.
7:23pm: Worse luck struck again at Monday's dress rehearsal, when star baritone Mariusz Kwiecien went down with an injured disc, not ten minutes into the opera. Mr. Kwiecien has had back surgery and his prognosis is good. His substitute: Peter Mattei, recently heard in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Dwayne Croft remains the cover.
7:25pm: Welcome to the Metropolitan Opera Online Stream. Stay with us because tonight's broadcast will begin shortly.
7:29pm: ...and here's Margaret Juntwait and Will Berger.
Barbara Frittoli (l.) as Donna Elvira confronts Peter Mattei's Don.
This is from the old production. Photo by Ken Howard © 2009 Metropolitan Opera.
ACT I: 
7:30pm: Get well wishes for Mariusz Kwiecien and they're so glad Peter Mattei is here. Quick Act I summary for the listener going over the plot.
7:33pm: Conductor to the pit....
7:34pm: Audience applauds and it's game time. Act I.
7:35pm: Opening of the Overture measured, with those famous chords. "Hellfire" theme against solemn background of brass and timpani...orchestra sounds good. Now the second, faster theme, taken a little slow then gathering speed to the first climax. After this Luisi does not let up. Strings very crisp with fine pointing from the oboes and flute.
7:40pm: Curtain up and here's bass Luca Pisaroni as Leporello, kvetching about his boss.
7:42pm: Enter a vigorous-sounding Peter Mattei and an equally determined Donna Anna. Trio ensemble here not quite perfectly together but the dramatic energy is palpable.
7:43pm: Stefan Kocán as a resonant Commendatore. Swords drawn audibly. "Se voi morir!"
7:45pm: And he's down. Sword thrust, not a back injury as the Commendatore breathes his last--as a mortal, anyway.
7:46pm: Fabio Luisi moves to harpsichord for first recitatives. Love that he's doubling the two jobs. Lot of clomping about on the wooden set.
7:48pm: Bel canto tenor and Met veteran Ramon Vargas is unusual, luxury casting for Don Ottavio, the worst role in opera because the character (not the singer) is basically a jellyfish. Donna Anna has all the stingers!
7:52pm: This duet sounds "even" for once with Vargas singing with more power than most Don Jellyfish.
7:55pm: Barbara Frittoli makes her entrance as Donna Elvira.
8pm: Leporello and Elvira discuss the Don and his outrageous sex life. Here comes that famous er...number. Sound of a book being opened.
8:06pm Pisaroni gets the Catalogue song rolling with sprightly accompaniment from the pit. Audience laughter at "mil 'e tre." Thank God for MET Titles! Second subject with its courtly dance-figures (a little Mozartean joke) taken very slowly and delicately. Sung with warmth but not leering. Last part taken very slowly with some vocal showing off from Pisaroni.
8:07pm: How rude of me. LiveStream is HERE. We now rejoin our peasant wedding, in progress.
8:08pm: Peasants occupying the stage like it's Zuccoti Park. Sorry, couldn't resist. Joshua Bloom gruff and unsubtle as Masetto, Mojca Erdmann makes a good first impression as Zerlina.
8:12pm: Masetto may be a churl, but Joshua Bloom sang a good, very fast "Ho capito." BTW that is how you respond when someone gets in your face and says "Capeesh?" (I'm from Brooklyn.)
8:14pm: Peter Mattei coming into his own, the right mix of seduction and swagger as he goes to work on Zerlina and the lead-in to the most famous duet in Mozart. Tho he's wandering away from the mic.
8:15pm: Best part of duet: sensual, exquisite playing from the orchestra evoking Mozart's very carnal music. This is where Strauss got the sex scene that opens Rosenkavalier from, the pulsing, squeeze-box rhythms and parrying, dancing voices. Andiam!
8:20pm: The Don meets Anna and Ottavio. And cue Elvira.
8:25pm: The complex Quartet, beautifully executed by the ensemble. At least their timing seems to be down, which bodes well for next Monday (when I see this show in the house.)
8:31pm: Marina Rebeka an excellent Donna Anna singing "Or sai chi l'onore."
8:34pm: Vargas just floating those long notes into the air of the Met with remarkable control in "Dalla sua pace," stretching out the texture--he has the technique for this and Luisi is trusting his singer.
8:36pm: Now stretching out with vibrato--but not unsteadiness for the last notes, ending with an organ-like woodwind figure that shows up in a lot of Wagner operas.
8:39pm: Champagne aria taken at ridiculously fast speed with Mattei blustering through it and banging stuff around on stage. Not sure the grapes were stomped in France.
8:42pm: "Batti, batti O bel Masetto": the favorite aria of New York Rangers fans, who believe that Masetto clearly plays for the Islanders and wears No. 6.
8:46pm: Enter the chorus as the pieces move into position for the Act I finale. My brain always hears "Zerlinetta" as "Zerbinetta." Too much Strauss.
8:52pm: This finale is sometimes muddled but here it's crisp and sounds as if it's well-directed. (We'll know more Monday.) Some exquisite wind playing. Much more clomping around on the set and bustling about before everyone launches into the fast section. Luisi VERY tight here and the singers know their parts and sound great even with the last-minute cast change.
8:55pm: "Viva la liberta!" sung with extra meaning here. Is that because the cops are going to try to clear Zuccotti Park tomorrow at 6am on the pretext of "cleaning" away "Occupy Wall Street." OK. Back to opera.
8:57pm: Someone get the cast some nice soft Crocs. Clomp, clomp, clomp.
8:59pm: Last whizzing section of the finale launched at very high speed. Luisi a steely-eyed missile man in the pit leading a very fast ensemble and nobody missing a cue. Prompter must be working overtime down in the smallest room in the house. So far this has been a solid Don Giovanni off to a great start with an invigorating finish to the first act. Damn, that's fast, but everything is dead on. And last notes.

INTERMISSION: WB and MJ talking about the costumes and about everything going on in the pell-mell finale. Production described as "sweaty." Hmm.
9:14pm: Good interview with bass Bryn Terfel who has sung (at least) four roles in Don Giovanni. 9:18pm: He aptly described the Das Rheingold as "sparse." That's being kind.
9:25pm: Will Berger breaking down "chocolate in opera."
9:30pm: WB describing the stage set. Windows, balconies, a courtyard and a wall of windows. And enough fire effects to make Beavis happy.
The Act II Graveyard Scene, from the 1790 production in Prague.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
ACT TWO:
9:34pm: First duet for master and servant. "Eh via, buffone." Chemistry and comic timing evident.
9:42pm: It sucks not having a program. Who's playing Donna Elvira's anonymous (but attractive) maid? Terzetto conducted sensually by Luisi with Pisaroni's sardonic comments drawing all the laughs. (Titles again.) Now we switch costumes.
9:51pm: "Deh vieni" sung with great delicacy and warmth by Mr. Mattei. All that guitar playing in Barbiere ("Se il mio nome") probably helped.
9:54pm: Erdmann singing with great tenderness and then a stunning high note in "Vedrai, carino."
9:58pm: The welcome return of Ramon Vargas. Usually don't feel that way about Don Ottavio but he's singing really well tonight. It's not the singer, it's the character.
10:02pm: Luisi is a bold conductor taking the sextet at a pace that recalls the John Eliot Gardiner recordings. But the singers are together in the sextet and all the words can be heard. Wow.
10:09pm: "Il mio tesoro"--Vargas has the house rapt, singing with a reached-for high note but generally with good breath control, ornamentation and more volume and power than you usually hear from Don Ottavio. And it's good that he gets both of his arias!
10:11pm: And the house responds accordingly. Bravo!
10:15pm: Fast tempos again for "Mi tradi" with Barbara Frittoli breath-y but engagingly sung.
10:18pm: To the cemetery scene!
10:20pm: And there's the statue. Voice sounds like it's through an echo effect or perhaps they're using the same rig for Fafner in the upcoming Siegfried. Too much echo.
10:23pm: "O statua gentilissima!" Pisaroni very good here. Really sounds scared and not like he's playing it for laughs. If you play this for laughs the ending doesn't work.
10:30pm: "Non mi dir" sung with great delicacy, Rebeka making Anna into a more sympathetic figure and not the hard-edged "revenge Valkyrie" who stalked the Zeffirelli production. Nice coloratura too. Audience really likes her. And they should.
10:34pm: Party at the Don's house. Guess who's coming to dinner? Lots of onstage movement going on, dishes, plates clinking--does the Don have a whip to hit Leporello with? (Find out Monday.)
10:37pm: And the banda played on. "Non piu andrai" well played by the Met winds, a titter of laughter from the house. Boy are they in for a shock when the dinner guest gets here.
10:38pm: Not you, Elvira.
10:39pm: 10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1....scream!
10:41pm: The dinner guest arrives. Echo effect turned down here. Met techies must read this post and take notes accordingly. Anyway Kocán sounds a lot better. Pisaroni too histrionic here--should be singing the lines not whimpering. Sing first. Whimper later.
10:42pm: Flames rising slowly in the pit. This might be best-conducted Don Giovanni I've heard at the Met and I've seen the opera there five times. This is on a level with Fischer this summer: very solid music-making, real dread coming out of the speakers. "Parla! Parla!"
10:45pm: Peter Mattei now has to make the Don win our sympathies even as he's dragged to hell. This is the crux of the opera: you wish you were brave enough like the Don not to repent and to choose eternal damnation rather than listen to that grumpy old statue. Mattei's voice is rising to the occasion too over the orchestra--this is a face-off of equals.
10:47pm: Luisi, orchestra, chorus, are literally raising hell. I can't wait to see this. And there's the hissing fire effects. Whooshwhooshwhoosh. Last chords. House absolutely going bonkers.
10:49pm: That last ensemble. Wrapping up while the damnation still rings in their ears. I always think this last bit should be cut but...18th century convention. It reminds me of the "Where are they now?" at the end of National Lampoon's Animal House. On the bright side, you get to hear Vargas sing again. Which is nice. Audience chuckling at the titles or at the idea of Elvira entering a convent?
10:53pm: That whizzing fugue-like ending borrowed by Verdi for Falstaff. 
10:54pm: The last curtain rings down on a successful prima. Bravo to all. Can't wait to see it!
10:55pm: Loud applause for Vargas. Cheering for Pisaroni's Leporello. Roars of approval for Latvian soprano Rebeka, one of two debut artists in this strong cast. The other is Erdmann. Peter Mattei appreciated--he saved this night by switching operas. Bravo! OK. Conductor and production team next.
10:57pm: Warm reception for Fabio Luisi now on the stage. Production team comes out. No audible boos. Everyone applauding at great volume and no "boo-birds." Good.

Hope you enjoy reading this, and if you stuck with us for the duration, I hope you had fun listening to Don Giovanni. Be sure to read Superconductor for the full review (from up in the Family Circle), running next Tuesday morning.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.