*Don Giovanni,* May 24, 2023
Stephanie and I saw *Don Giovanni* on May 24, 2023. I admire Mozart but don't really love him. This is blasphemy to some, but I've always said that *Don Giovanni* and *Marriage of Figaro* can each be neatly summarized in a 45-minute highlights CD. We don't need to spend more than three hours in the theater.
But I was very eager to see the new production of *Don G* at the Met because it was being directed by my favorite theatre director, Belgian whack job Ivo Van Hove, in his Met debut. I've seen his productions of *A View from the Bridge,* *The Crucible,* *The Fountainhead,* *All About Eve,* *Network,* and most memorably, *The Damned.* He's a singular artist with a very particular vision. Not to everyone's taste but totally turns my crank. I was sure that if anyone could make something exciting out of *Don G,* it would be this dude.
I was expecting something edgy, shocking, and/or vile. We got none of that. Van Hove simply told the story in a compelling way, he didn't appear to insert any of his trademark directorial flourishes. And I didn't miss them! He's allegedly doing a new production of Weill and Brecht's *The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny* in a few years. That show is ripe for some Van Hove-branded vileness.
The opera had a vaguely contemporary setting, in Spain. The sets and lighting were by Van Hove's longtime collaborator (and personal life squeeze) Jan Versweyveld. The set seemed a little drab at first blush but the lighting really brought it to life. I'd love to see him brought back for more new productions, with or without Van Hove.
I don't think I've ever written an opera review and talked about the conductor before the singers, but Nathalie Stutzmann was just that good. I've been a fan of hers for 25 years, but as a singer - - she's an amazing contralto, she has a luscious voice. She added conducting to her wheelhouse sometime around 2009 and has been doing quite a lot of admired work as a conductor. This season was her first season as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
She set such an enticing tone with the overture. It crackled, it was crisp and taut, it was full of life and drama. The musical highlight of the evening was early in the show, in a trio or Don G, his servant Leporello, and the old dude Don G has just shot, the Commendatore. The harmonies were dark and took unexpected, fascinating turns. Of course it was Mozart who wrote the harmonies but I'll give big points to Stutzmann for sculpting them with such care.
Peter Mattei played Don G, a role he's played all over the world. He was tremendous. He and Van Hove conceived of the character as a sociopath, someone with no conscience and no moral compass. Mattei captured this with great subtlety. We were drawn to Don G because Mattei sang so beautifully but we were never charmed by him.
Adam Plachetka played Leporello. He had all of the charm that Don G lacked, he was marvelous. Federica Lombardi was Donna Anna, the grandest of the three ladies. She sang with a nice ripe sound but always with clarity.
Please allow me a diversion on the subject of singing Mozart. I've been an audience member at probably about 30 afternoons of Met Opera auditions, either on the local level, the regional level, or (once) on the stage of the Met. The way it works is the singer chooses five arias - - the singer chooses the aria he/she leads with and the judges choose one or more from the remaining arias. Part of the fun of being in the audience is seeing what five arias the singers have prepared (they're printed in the program) and guessing what second aria the judges choose. Almost without exception the judges will choose a Mozart aria because more than any other composer it reveals the singer in all their nakedness. There's no place to hide when you're singing Mozart. Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer can sing Rossini with a lot of gulps and gargling but that will not fly with Mozart, it'll sound vulgar and wrong.
Here's Gencer singing Mozart:
And singing Rossini. You hear a good gargle at 1:26:
All of the singers in *Don G* sang with exquisite Mozart style: clarity, refinement, and superb taste. But not chilly and chaste, they were always vibrant and red-blooded.
Ying Fang played Zerlina, the sweet young thing. It seems like the Met is building her up to be an important star on the rise. Her voice was bigger than I had expected. She's a smart singer, has a lovely voice, and has lots of charisma. She's definitely someone to watch. Another young singer to watch is tenor Ben Bliss who played Donna Anna's boyfriend Don Ottavio. Another case of the voice being bigger than I expected. I wouldn't be surprised if the Met gradually moves him through Donizetti, light Verdi, and eventually into Puccini. We'll see. His singing was impressive, he really knows what he's doing.
My favorite role in this opera is the wackiest of the ladies, Donna Elvira. She's the most multi-faceted character in the opera - - she's funny but with an undercurrent of sadness mixed with vengeance. It's the kind of role you can sink your teeth into and Ana María Martínez made it a hearty and satisfying meal. She captured all of the complexity of her character and sang with great beauty and relish. She had a few floated high notes that were the vocal high points of the evening. She was the one singer I was most eager to hear again.