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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Don Giovanni

Mozart's libertine nobleman returns to add to his catalogue.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Down in flames: the Don gets his justice in Mozart's Don Giovanni.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's 2016-17 revival of its fiery 2011 production of Don Giovanni features three different all-star casts and two different conductors.

What is Don Giovanni?
Don Giovanni is called a dramma giocoso, a rollicking comedy with a dark and morally instructive ending. It is the second of three operatic collaborations between Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, who injected notes from his own libertine lifestyle into this portrait of a Spanish nobleman who is absolutely obsessed with getting his ashes hauled. Want proof? Look to the "Catalogue Song", where Leporello ennumerates the Don's conquests, including 1,003 women in Spain alone.

Who's in the cast?
The Met is offering the chance to see three different casts in this opera. The first features Simon Keenlyside in the title role. He'll then be replaced by Ildar Abdrazakov and in the spring performances, Mariusz Kwiecien. The Leporellos are Adam Plachetka, Matthew Rose and Erwin Schrott. Mr. Rose sings Masetto in the first performances before trading roles with Mr. Plachetka. Four great tenors (Rolando Villazón, Paul Appleby, Ramon Vargas and Matthew Polenzani) sing Don Ottavio.

Hibla Gerzmava, Malin Byström and Angela Meade take turns singing the vengeful Donna Anna. Ms. Byström, Amanda Majeski and Marina Rebeka will sing the spurned Donna Elvira. Serena Malfi, Andine Sierra and Isabel Leonard take on the soubrette role of Zerlina. Finally, basses Kwangchal Youn and Stefan Kocan sing the role of the Commendatore, the vengeful father of Donna Anna who drags the dilettante Don down to damnation. The fall performances are conducted by former Met principal conductor Fabio Luisi. The spring shows will be led by former Met principal tenor Placido Domingo.

Why should I go see this opera?
Any one of the stellar casts offered in the three "runs" of the opera this season would be good reason to plunk down money. But the real reward in this opera is Mozart's endless, inventive genius. The show is loaded with some of his greatest writing for the voice, from Donna Anna's fiery Act I aria "Or sai chi l'onore" to the light humor of the Catalogue Song and the Act II serenade. But the kicker is that final damnation sequence, where the composer whips up a storm of orchestral hellfire that can singe the soul and make one think seriously about repenting one's sins. For more on Don Giovanni and its meaning, click here. http://super-conductor.blogspot.com/2011/08/guess-whos-coming-to-dinner.html

How's the production?
The Met's bad luck with this opera continues. This 2011 staging by Michael Grandage maintains the nocturnal atmosphere of the Don's adventures, with the actions set against moving walls of louvered doors that suggest more the dilapadated no-tell motels of the Jersey shore than the streets of Seville. The darkened sets don't give the actors much to work with, although the blocking of the complex Act I finale (with its three groups of musicians onstage all playing different melodies) is entertaining to watch. The fire sequence at the end is impressive.

When does the show open?
Don Giovanni is the first opera of the generale or regular Metropolitan Opera season. The first cast takes the stage Sept. 27. The second cast arrives Nov. 1. The spring run opens April 26, 2016

Where do I get tickets?
Tickets for Don Giovanni are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I buy?
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)
One of the first stereo recordings of this opera, the Krips recording captures singers of a different age in the fertile earth of Vienna, Mozart's adopted hometown. Cesare Siepi and Fernando Corena play the roles of master and servant with gusto, and the conducting is terrific.

Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Carlo Maria Giulini (EMI, 1959)
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 jaw-dropping cast (which features
Eberhard Wächter, Giuseppe Taddei, Joan Sutherland, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Gottlob Frick, Piero Cappucilli and Luigi Alva) was assembled by producer Walter Legge. It has never been bettered.

Chamber Orchestra of Europe cond. Claudio Abbado (DG, 1998)
This excellent set features opening night Don Simon Keenlyside, born to the title role. This was Bryn Terfel's third recording of the opera, and his first as Leporello. 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.

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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.