Mozart’s iconic masterpiece received a completely satisfying performance this afternoon. Every part of it was A level or above. The new production of the opera was staged by British theater director Micheal Grandage. The sets and costumes were by Paule Constable. What was most remarkable about the production was that it was traditional. The action was set in the 18th century with the sets and clothes appropriate for that time. Revolutionary! Brown was the dominant color, which got a little tedious after a while. But Mozart’s score and Da Ponte’s libretto are, of course, so good that all a director has to do is follow their directions. If the singers and conductor are up to the task the performance can’t miss. Today everyone was much more than just able.
The set was mostly the wall of a brown building that opened from the middle to allow the action to move deeper into the stage. Nothing special, but it let the action to flow smoothly.
A word about the opera’s two acts. One of the cast during an intermission interview said, excusing Donna Anna’s constant putting off of Don Ottavio’s request for marriage, that the action takes place in one day. I don’t think so. If it did Ottavio’s continued importations to Anna in the second act would be thoughtless when asked of a woman whose father has just been murdered; and DO is considerate to a fault. It’s why he’s so boring and why Anna won’t marry him until she’s had a real man. Furthermore, how did that big statue of the Commendatore get built in less than a day? The libretto says nothing about the time of the second act compared to the first, but there has to have been a considerable passage of time between the two. It’s important for time to have elapsed because the Don’s dissolution is advanced in the final act from his mental state at the opera’s start.
By now everyone interested in opera knows that Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien hurt his back during the dress rehearsal and missed the opening night of this show and the subsequent two performances. Today’s telecast was the fifth of this run. Kwiecien’s Don is a rather sinister guy. His compulsive pursuit of women has not made him very happy. Something is missing in his life. He almost eagerly embraces going to hell. This Don clearly brings to mind Freud’s pronouncement that any man who can’t find what he’s looking for in 1,000 women is looking for a man. Vocally, Kwiecien has fully mastered the Don’s music. His lyric baritone subtly conveyed the Don’s mercurial temperament. His was a nuanced and fully realized characterization. The only way he could improve his rendition of the part would be to grow six inches.
Leporello, is as great a character as the Don. They are almost mirror images of each other. Luca Pisaroni was born in Argentina, but moved Busseto (Verdi’s hometown) when he was four. He studied voice there with Carlo Bergonzi. He is a Mozart specialist. All of his appearances at the Met have been in Mozart operas. He’s got Leporello down to the last T. He puts up with the Don’s mistreatment because he wishes he could behave the same way. Pisaroni was in fine vocal shape except for a few moments of strain during the Catalogue Aria.
Barbara Frittoli has sung both Anna and Elvira at the Met. Today she appeared as the latter. She looked and sounded great. Both “Non ti fidar, o misera” and “Mi tradi” were sung with ease and pathos. Poor woman, she’d have done better had she fallen for DO while Donna Anna would have been better off with DG.
Marina Rebeka made her Met debut as Donna Anna in the first performance of this run. She is a handsome woman who had no trouble with the shorter but more hazardous of these two roles. She has a spinto voice that in texture is not much different from Frittoli’s. “Or sai chi l’onore” was dispatched with facility and the right amount of malice.
From a purely vocal standpoint, the afternoon’s highlight was the singing of 51 year old Ramón Vargas as Don Ottavio. The Mexican tenor gave a masterclass in Mozart singing. His voice may not have the sheen of his earlier years, but his technique is dazzling. “Dalla sua pace” was elegantly spun out with fully supported pianissimos that were worthy of the best of Cesare Valletti. Similarly excellent was “Il mio tesoro” that was sung seemingly all in one breath. Years of singing heavier roles than this have not harmed Vargas’s coloratura. He made the aria’s runs seem easy – anyone could do it. The audience fully realized the worth of what he was doing and responded appropriately. He was so good that you could forget for a moment that Ottavio is opera’s ultimate nebbish.
Mojca Erdmann and Joshua Bloom were the peasant lovers. Erdmann has a pleasant light soprano while Bloom was appropriately bumptious and smitten as her put upon lover. Stefan Kocán has a dark bass that conjured the supernatural during his postmortem appearance in one of opera’s greatest scenes. He deserves some bigger roles. The staging, acting, and orchestral performance made this episode as powerful and scary as it’s supposed to be.
Fabio Luisi conducted Mozart’s great score with fire and precision. The Met’s lucky to have him as their new Principal Conductor. Barbara Willis Sweete managed the TV direction without resorting, as is her usual want, to offensive closeups.
Once again the telecast was interrupted by an inactivity message from the Dish Network. I don’t know who to blame, but this shouldn’t happen two weeks in a row.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart-Lorenzo Da Ponte
Don Giovanni…………Mariusz Kwiecien
Donna Anna…………..Marina Rebeka
Don Ottavio………….Ramón Vargas
Donna Elvira…………Barbara Frittoli
Harpsichord Continuo: Fabio Luisi
Mandolin Solo: Joyce Rasmussen Balint
Lighting Designer…….Paule Constable
TV Director………….Barbara Willis Sweete