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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Opera Review: Hunk City

The new Don Giovanni at the Met.
"Nobody move or the baritone gets it!"
Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni (with knife) threatens Luca Pisaroni's Leporello.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's new Don Giovanni has been beset by injuries. First, music director James Levine was replaced by new principal conductor Fabio Luisi. Then the star, rising "bari-hunk" Mariusz Kwiecien injured his back at the dress rehearsal, three days before the premiere.

Luckily, the Met had the also-hunky Peter Mattei on the roster this year, singing Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia.. But with almost no time to prepare, rehearse, or work with Mr. Grandage, Mr. Mattei's vocally handsome performance felt like he had stepped in from another production. That said, he sang a lovely, genuinely seductive "Deh! vieni alla finestra." in the second act, and cut a striking figure in the fiery climax.

With the Don a cipher, the role of leading man falls to Leporello, sung by Luca Pisaroni. Mr. Pisaroni raises the energy level whenever he is onstage. The servant is as lecherous as his master, played with a curiously moral core that is straight out of Beaumarchais. Mr. Pisaroni brought a raw vitality to the proceedings, and has the makings of a great Don himself.

Michael Grandage's direction has the singers manage the negative space between their characters. The air seems to crackle between the pairs: Ottavio and Anna, Masetto and Zerlina. The opera's best couple? The disguised Leporello (posing as the Don) and Donna Elvira, played as a slightly manic stalker by the talented Barbara Frittoli. 

Don Ottavio is the weakest character in this opera. (Mr. Grandage compensated by arming him heavily.) Ramón Vargas' best weapon though, was his voice, a smooth, supple tenor that sang Ottavio's two difficult arias without seeming to pause for breath. The "optional" Act II aria  "Il mio tesero" was outstanding, with all of the ornamentation brought out and shining. 

Two young sopranos make their Met debuts in this run. Marina Rebeka sang "Non mi dir" with control and strong, if slightly shrill tone. At least she made Donna Anna more than a one-note character. Mojca Erdmann was a Zerlina from the coquette school, with a voice too small for the cavernous house. As Masetto Mr. Bloom, (a budding bari-hunk), made the most of playing a wife-beating shmo. Stefan Kocán's serviceable Commendatore would be better without the amplified echo on his voice in the graveyard scene. 

This is an urban Don Giovanni. The streets of Seville are presented on Christopher Oram's rotating set, consisting of high, curved tiers of multi-colored, louvred doors, each with its own balcony. (It looks like a seedy motel.) Occasionally, the "motel" opens to reveal a large courtyard, used for the wedding reception, the cemetery, and the Don's villa. The best visual: during the Catalogue Song, when all the doors open to reveal the Don's conquests in a manner reminiscent of Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle.  

Conducting from the harpsichord (and playing the continuo himself) Fabio Luisi made a case for his recent promotion, alternating between light comedy and the orchestral firestorm in the opera's climactic scene. The hellfire whooshed out of the stage, threatening to incinerate Mr. Pisaroni as Mr. Mattei was dragged down through a hole in the floor. But Mr. Luisi proved that the real heat was in Mozart's music, not in rock concert special effects.
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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.