Saturday, October 29, 2011

(Dull) or (Don) Giovanni; (Old) or (New) School. Review of the Met Live in HD

The Michael Grandage production of Don Giovanni, broadcast today into cinemas by the Met Live in HD, seemed designed to draw battle lines. Does an opera require anything more than the very best ensemble cast?

The singers were all amazing. I can't imagine debate about that fact. Marina Rebeka as Donna Anna, Barbara Frittoli as Donna Elvira, and Mojca Erdmann as Zerlina were each able to present detailed musical performances and have a charismatic presence on the unfolding action. Ramón Vargas made Don Ottavio the kind of character with whom you would love to have a cup of coffee. Mariusz Kwiecien, who seemed in perfect health, as Don Giovanni and Luca Pisaroni as Leporello had strong chemistry, and even looked enough alike that the disguise scene seemed inevitable. More importantly Don Giovanni and Leporello were like separate aspects of the same consciousness. This cast has the potential to become a 21st century classic.

So what was the problem?

The first act seemed long. In Don Giovanni long means wrong.

A gradual awareness settled in that the set was dull and motionless. I expected to enjoy the lack of dazzle as a refreshing alternative to projection hangovers. But in fact, detail within the set drew attention to itself and away from the singers. We kept waiting for the structures onstage to be used and developed. It seemed as if the cast carried the weight of heavy shudders on their own shoulders.

The fight was on. Perfect music and great vocal and acting performance against the production.

The second act of Don Giovanni requires sudden shifts into a supernatural world, and Grandage was successful with these transitions. The final scene thrilled with arcs of fire. Kwiecien sang like a rockstar and was pulled underneath the stage with wonderful machinery. But there was not enough kinetic energy to support "Il mio tesoro" and "Mi tradi," and so stasis found its way into the second act also.

I liked the classical take on the costumes, gestures, and basic concept. I get that Peter Sellars had the day off. I just wish that the end result was the one that Grandage seemed to intend.

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