Thursday, January 12, 2012


Reviewed by James Karas

For its new production of Don Giovanni, the Metropolitan Opera turned to British theatre director Michael Grandage. He has made his mark in the theatre especially as Artistic Director of London’s redoubtable Donmar Warehouse but he is a relative newcomer to opera. We have the right to expect a fine-tuned theatrical approach to the opera of operas and the result is not disappointing. Seeing the production on the movie screen, one gets the benefit of noticing details that are not easy to detect in the opera house but there is a “but” to that.

A stellar cast does not hurt the production and the result is an exceptional production if not an ideal one.

The first thing you notice when the curtain goes up is that the Commendatore whose daughter the lecherous Don Giovanni is seducing lives in a tenement house. It is a three-story building with shuttered windows and doors, peeling paint and the over-all look of almost a slum. This set will do for the rest of the production. The front part of the tenement will be moved to the side and some of the action will take place in the courtyard of the tenement.

The oft-produced opera has been set in as many locales as directors and designers could imagine from the traditional Zeffirellian grandiose palaces to a bare stage to a library so a tenement is just another twist.

Otherwise this a traditional production with 18th century costumes of no particular distinction although Donna Elvira is dressed quite gorgeously. The Set and Costume Designer is Christopher Oram.

Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien tackles the role of Don Giovanni with enthusiasm and gusto. He is an agile actor and singer with a marvelous, light baritone voice who swashbuckles his way through the evening.

Don Giovanni’s sidekick Leporello is sung by Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni. This Leporello is physically bigger than his employer and has a hefty but sonorous voice. He is weary of his boss’s shenanigans and immorality but he is not beyond imitating him. Kwiecien and Pisaroni interact well and provide superb performances.

Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli as Donna Elvira is a mature woman who is deeply hurt but still obsessed with Don Giovanni. She says that she wants revenge but you do not believe her because all she wants is for him to go back to her. Frittoli has a luscious luminescent voice and makes a dramatic Donna Elvira.

Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka is the eternally grieving Donna Anna. Dressed in black, she is angry and moving and when she tells her betrothed Don Ottavio that the wedding is off for another year, you simply believe her.

Ramon Vargas is physically suitable as the well-meaning but ineffectual Don Ottavio but I am not entirely fond of his vocal style. His aria “Il mio tesoro intanto” has some gorgeous long phrases that require a light tenor voice of exceptional expressiveness and mellifluousness. Vargas simply did not give that type of delivery and sounded more like a Verdian hero than a weakling Don Ottavio.

Vargas sings “Il mio tesoro intanto” to Donna Elvira and she in fact goes to Donna Anna on the second floor of the tenement and embraces her. Don Ottavio continues singing to the country girl Zerlina and Masetto and I am not sure if a nobleman would ask peasants to comfort his betrothed.

German soprano Mojca Erdmann and Austrian bass-baritone Joshua Bloom are a well-matched Zerlina and Masetto. She is pert and lively with a perfectly suitable lilt in her voice while he is a peasant without being a particularly stupid. They end up being the only happy couple in the opera. Enjoyable.

Live from the Met means lots of close-ups which, as I never tire of repeating, allow for absorption of details at the cost of enjoying the overall effect. In this broadcast we are allowed to look at a scene for whole seconds without changes in shots and the camera does pan the scene now and then. Otherwise it is the usual horror story of changing camera shots and angles.

Fabio Luisi conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in a production that you can complain about only after you have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Don Giovanni by W. A. Mozart was shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on October 29, 2011 and rebroadcast on January 9, 2012 at the Cineplex Town Centre, Toronto, Ont. and other cinemas. For more information:

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