CHARACTERS FROM THE UPPER CLASSDon Giovanni: Simon Keenlyside (baritone)
Donna Anna: Hibla Gerzmava (soprano)
Commendatore, Anna's father: Kwangchul Youn (bass)
Don Ottavio, Anna's fiance: Paul Appleby (tenor)
Donna Elvira: Malin Byström (soprano)
CHARACTERS FROM THE LOWER CLASSLeporello, Giovanni's servant: Adam Plachetka (baritone)
Zerlina: Serena Malfi (soprano)
Masetto, Zerlina's fiance: Matthew Rose (baritone)
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Production: Michael Grandage
Mozart's Don Giovanni premiered in Prague in 1787 which, I have recently learned, was enjoying a Don Juan vogue at the time.
Nasty is the word of the week, and it seemed suitable for this somewhat raunchy Don Giovanni from the Metropolitan Opera in HD. General reaction: Oh, THAT'S what it's about. Don Giovanni is about sex, a subject we are getting rather a lot of this year. The Don seems not to focus on certain areas for his sex crimes. He covers the gamut of entitled male animal. We have to say that Da Ponte seems to know rather a lot about his subject. He also knew enough to leave the sex scenes ambiguous so we don't quite know what happened. We are thus spared the phony sex scenes that permeate modern opera productions.
I didn't mind the drab production this time because the characters filled it so vividly. The Don begins at the bottom with rape and murder. He enters Donna Anna's bedroom while she is sleeping, and she awakens to fight him off. If we take the libretto at its face, she is successful in fighting him off, unless we assume he raped her while she was asleep. Her father comes in, and Don Giovanni kills him. There is an amazing piece of blocking where the Don leans over the Commendatore and raises his hand in the air to represent the Commendatore's soul flying away at the moment of death. Wow. This is not Don Giovanni as Austin Powers, as I have often imagined, but rather a deeply evil Don. This Don Giovanni will not escape his doom. Don Ottavio vows to avenge the Commendatore.
I appreciated Simon's comment that Don Giovanni lies between the American and the French Revolutions. I separated the characters by class because this would have been what mattered most in the era. The entitled upper class who in the American Revolution lived across an ocean were still the target. We sent them back home. The French Revolution solved the problem by cutting off their heads. In the opera God intervenes.
Don Giovanni is never far from a woman. When Donna Elvira appears, Giovanni starts to seduce her until he sees who it is. He comes upon a wedding party, and from all the women present he chooses to pursue the bride. He serenades Donna Elvira's maid, and may actually have been successful here. We don't hear if he was successful.
The first time they go to Don Giovanni's house the singers are actually dancing. Not well, but dancing. The second time we are in the Don's house, his first course at dinner consists of fruit being eaten off of a woman's stomach. In case you had forgotten what the opera was about. After Giovanni descends into hell, Donna Elvira says, "I will go into a nunnery." Zerlina and Masetto say, "And we will go home to dinner." Favorite line. Nothing so trivial as sex will bother us. In the lower classes women are not traded for political advantage.
I want to discuss the performers. Simon Keenlyside was a physical dynamo, though clearly no longer young, his Don Giovanni pursued women with fascinating energy. I enjoyed his performance. Paul Appleby was just the right singer for Ottavio with a beautiful Mozart legato. He is young and will grow into his roles. Hibla Gerzmava has a huge voice that roared over the ensemble. We could hear her in some Verdi. Adam Plachetka's Leporello was very genuine and funny. I liked him, and find that I saw him before in Marriage of Figaro from Salzburg in 2015. Malin Byström was our Jenufa in San Francisco last Spring. I thought she was a strong performer. My only disappointment was the Zerlina of Serena Malfi. I absolutely adored Mojca Erdmann's Zerlina the last time we saw this production. It was my impression that Serena did not want to take her eyes off the conductor. I'm going to be annoying and give advice: sing with the music.
We all enjoyed this and felt we understood Don Giovanni as never before.