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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Opera Review: Sin City, Part Two

The second cast breathes life into the Met's Don Giovanni.
Isabel Leonard (l.) and Gerald Finley contemplate the horizontal mambo in Don Giovanni.
Photo by Marty Sohl. © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
When the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Don Giovanni opened in October, the big story was the injury to baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, scheduled to sing the title role. The ill luck continued for this run, when bass John Relyea was forced to cancel his appearances as Leporello. 

Happily, Tuesday night's performance proved to be something of a coming-out party for his replacement, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen. Leporello is the more interesting role anyway, and Mr. Ketelsen brought a rough comic energy to the part of the Don's faithful servant. His Catalogue Song snickered and leered. The brief tryst with Donna Elvira (Ellie Dehn) was a highlight of the second act, as he threw himself into the role of impersonating the Don. 

Gerald Finley brought a light touch to the title role, emphasizing the comic side of the character. This Don was played as the character that inspired the Romantics. He may have committed murder in the opening scene, but he was fun to be around, pulling the audience along on his wild adventures and making his actions seem like small sins in pursuit of a philosophical ethos

The Canadian baritone borought acting ability and a bustling comic energy to the part, racing through the Champagne Aria in what sounded like one breath. On the other hand, "Deh vieni a la finestra" was sung with a smooth seductive edge. The final scene, with huge gouts of flame eructating from the stage was heroically sung, with Mr. Finley pulling the audience's sympathies over to the side of the unrepentant Don.
Don Ottavio may be the most unrewarding primo tenore role in the repertory, with just two arias and little to do other than being supportive to Donna Anna. But this production continues to have good luck casting the part. Matthew Polenzani made the most of his two arias, putting emotional weight into "Dalla su pace" and  "Il mio tesoro." 

The ladies were a major improvement in this cast. Marina Rebeka has settled into the house, although her bright-toned soprano can prove wearing as Donna Anna. Ellie Dehn was a luxuriant, sensual Donna Elvira, without the shrill manic edge. And Isabel Leonard stole hearts and the opera as Zerlina. Masetto, (the bluff bass Shenyang) is a lucky peasant. 

The only hitch in the casting was the presence of James Morris as the Commendatore. His bass-baritone is still noble, but wearing at the bottom and showing more signs of age. At 65, the singer cannot make the listener jump out of their skin, and his voice lacked the black power needed to stand up to Mozart's writing for the full orchestra.

Sir Andrew Davis conducted an engaging, red-blooded performance. By not having to split duties at the harpsichord, the British maestro gave an old-fashioned Romantic reading of the score, that kept all of its power and hellfire while sacrificing none of the humor that is essential to this carefully balanced dramma giocoso.
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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.