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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Don Giovanni

Peter Mattei returns as Mozart's lust-driven nobleman.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Peter Mattei (with knife) and Luca Pisaroni are partners in crime in Don Giovanni.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
Don Giovanni may be Mozart's crowning achievement. The opera is a deft blend of comedy and tragedy, with the Don's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to the fair sex leading him to an inevitable, terrifying and fiery end. Mozart had written both comedies and tragedies at this point, and fearlessly blended light and dark in this brilliant score. The work combines grand musical ambition with hummable, unforgettable tunes.

Mr. Grandage's 2011 production of Don Giovanni puts the action on the darkened streets of Seville, depicting a world of hidden balconies and doors that feels claustrophobic despite the Met's vast acting surface.  Christopher Oram's rotating set consists of high, curved tiers of louvred doors, as if the opera had suddenly been transported to a seedy roadside motel, ideal for the Don's illicit adventures. Some of this production's many ideas are splendid, and others, less so.

When  this production of Don Giovanni bowed at the Metropolitan Opera, the bass Peter Mattei sung the title role as a late replacement for Mariusz Kwiecien. Here, Mr. Mattei returns to the title role, paired with the Leporello of Luca Pisaroni. The cast also features Elza van den Heever, Emma Bell, Kate Lindsey and (yet again) James Morris as the vengeful Commendatore. New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert crosses Lincoln Center Plaza to conduct this revival.

Don Giovanni opens Feb. 4, 2015.

Recording Recommendations
Don Giovanni is one of the most frequently recorded Mozart operas, and many fine recordings are available. Here are three that I like.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Josef Krips (Decca, 1955)
Don Giovanni: Cesare Siepi
Leporello: Fernando Corena
Donna Anna: Suzanne Danco
Donna Elvira: Lisa della Casa
Il Commendatore: Kurt Böhme
One of the first stereo recordings of this opera, the Krips recording captures singers of a different age in the fertile ground of Vienna, just a decade after the war. Siepi and Corena play the roles of master and servant with gusto, and the conducting is terrific.

Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Carlo Maria Giulini (EMI, 1959)
Don Giovanni: Eberhard Wächter
Leporello: Giuseppe Taddei
Donna Anna: Joan Sutherland
Donna Elvira: Elizabeth Schwarzkopf
Il Commendatore: Gottlob Frick
It's over 50 years old, and still the bench-mark. Carlo Maria Giulini is a brilliant conductor with the right blend of comic drive and high drama. The all-star cast (which also featurs Piero Cappucilli and Luigi Alva) was assembled by producer Walter Legge, a feat unimaginable today.

Chamber Orchestra of Europe cond. Claudio Abbado (DG, 1998)
Don Giovanni: Simon Keenlyside
Leporello: Bryn Terfel
Donna Anna Carmela Remigio
Donna Elvira: Soile Isokoski
Il Commendatore: Matti Salminen
This was Bryn Terfel's third recording of the opera, and his first as Leporello. (He was the Don for Solti's recording, and also recorded Masetto.) The Welsh baritone seems much more comfortable as the Don's slippery servant, and gives a great reading of this part. Abbado's conducting is spot on, as is Matti Salminen's terrifying Commendatore.

Tickets for Don Giovanni are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.
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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.