An Underserved Don
09/27/2016 - & October 1, 5, 8, 11, 15, 19, 22, November 1, 4, 10, 2016, April 26, 29, May 3*, 6, 11, 2017
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni, K. 527
Adam Plachetka/Matthew Rose/Erwin Schrott* (Leporello), Malin Byström/Hibla Gerzmava/Angela Meade* (Donna Anna), Ildar Abdrazakov/Simon Keenlyside/Mariusz Kwiecen*/Michael Todd Simpson* (Don Giovanni), Stefan Kocán*/ Kwangchul Youn (Commendatore), Paul Appleby/Matthew Polenzani* (Don Ottavio), Malin Byström/Amanda Majeski/Marina Rebeka* (Donna Elvira), Isabel Leonard*/Serena Malfi/Nadine Sierra (Zerlina), Jeongcheol Cha*/Adam Plachetka/Matthew Rose (Masetto)
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Donald Palumbo (chorus master), The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Plácido Domingo*/Fabio Luisi (conductor)
Michael Grandage (production), Christopher Oram (sets and costumes), Paule Constable (lighting designer)
I. Leonard, J. Cha (© Ken Howard)
Mozart’s opera about the great seducer has enlivened staid bourgeois imaginations and stoked repressed fears since its premiere in 1787, and opera companies have benefited ever since. This season, the Met will present Don Giovanni no fewer than sixteen times with three different and for the most part stellar casts, making it a backbone work of the repertoire. Judging by this energetic and highly entertaining performance, it was a good choice. The house looked nearly full – in and of itself sadly a triumph for the premiere American company these days – and the action on stage abounded with original physical comedy, even if the number of groin pulls and kicks eventually became wearisome.
Apart from the drama on stage, the evening’s Don changed early on. Mariusz Kwiecen, who is building an excellent career in the dramatic baritone repertoire, was fresh off a successful run singing the title part in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in place of the sick Dmitri Hvorostovsky. But after signing the first three scenes of this performance in subdued form due to an announced cold, he left the scene in favor of his understudy, the young American baritone Michael Todd Simpson. Known in comprimario parts at the Met and larger roles (including this one) elsewhere, Simpson exhibited a fine technique and a dark-hued, stentorian voice throughout the rest of the evening. He was every bit a match for his character’s servant and dramatic foil Leporello, admirably drawn out in full dimension by the superb baritone Erwin Schrott, himself a fine Don. Angela Meade sang alluringly as Donna Anna, especially in the opera’s delightful ensembles, and only seemed to get better as the evening went on. As her suitor Don Ottavio, tenor Matthew Polenzani brought real star power to what is often a throwaway part. Ottavio is weak, retiring, and at bottom a nice bore, but here he emerged as a character with deep feelings and someone one could at least respect. As the young couple Zerlina and Masetto, whom the Don nearly breaks up, Isabel Leonard sang exquisitely with engaging soubrette delicacy. She was poorly matched by the cast’s weakest link in the rough sounding bass Jeongcheol Cha. Marina Rebeka threatened to steal the show as Donna Elvira, wisely avoiding the part’s usually shrill modern delivery in favor of the comedic disaster Mozart and his culture intended her to be as a seduced and abandoned women.
Critics are often unkind to Plácido Domingo as a conductor, but at this performance there was utterly no call for anything less than fair praise for a well-balanced and energetically led reading of Mozart’s delightful score.
Paul du Quenoy