Check out our latest series. GRR opera critic Leah Harrison reviews The Met: Live in HD.
Presented by Metropolitan Opera Live in HD
Where she saw it Regal Cinemas at Shoppingtown Mall
When Oct. 29, 1 p.m.
Next opera "Siegfried" November 5, 2011, 12 pm ET
Michael Grandage saturates every bit of wit, anguish, and terror supplied by Mozart and Da Ponte in his new production of "Don Giovanni" at the Metropolitan Opera.
Mariusz Kwiecień, in his signature role, brings everything you want in a Don Giovanni—a rich, agile baritone, cunning and irresistible—as well as his own subtle insight into the Don’s psyche. Kwiecień’s Giovanni is masterfully and tirelessly seductive (even as you scoff at the stupidity of his prey, you want to be his next victim), but his brazen attitude toward women masks fatigue for this lifestyle. Out of pride and habit, he continues on his path of destruction, but part of him wants to give in to Donna Elvira. His defiance of this longing literally damns him to hell in a terrifying burst of flames as he is swallowed by the earth, a scene befitting the Halloween weekend.
Not to be outdone by scads of women, Luca Pisaroni’s Leporello exhibits intimate chemistry with Giovanni, despite having to accommodate Kwiecień’s back injury on the night of the final run through, resulting in surgery and recuperation time (Kwiecień’s reputation as Don Giovanni anticipates a bit more boldness than he was able to bring less than a week after medical clearance, but if I hadn’t known, I wouldn’t have known). The two interact as brothers, communicating with glances and flippant gestures to the audience’s great amusement. Pisaroni’s considerable height and deep voice could have handicapped the shorter and lighter-voiced Kwiecień, but instead he was goofy and hysterical. Only an expert such as he could raise an eyebrow and cause the audience to double over with laughter.
Fabio Luisi’s baton gave lively tempos, which kept the classics fluid. Making Met history, Luisi propped his score on the stand of a cembalo, accompanying the opera’s recitative and exhibiting precision in this dying skill.
As for the women, the creamy, decadent voice of Marina Rebeka sang Donna Anna so beautifully that the annoying nature of her role didn’t sink in until Act II. She sang with the sweetness of a nightingale, even if her words begged for vengeance like a Rick Perry supporter on the topic of the death penalty. Barbara Frittoli supplied a deep psychological profile for Donna Elvira (not unlike Kwiecień did for Giovanni), driven close to madness by her last chance for love. Her impassioned striving for restitution and redemption were convincing on a level of reality.
Without the heavy burden of a murdered father or run-away lover, Zerlina provides cute, flirty relief. Mojca Erdmann could have been playing Papagena or Barbarina on the same night if the hall across the street were putting on the appropriate production. Erdmann's florid melodies tinkled around the ledger lines with ease and expertise.
Ramón Vargas's great poignancy and responsibility were well suited for Ottavio, his splendid purity making you wish he’d marry your daughter.
Other critics have looked down upon Grandage’s production, calling it stillborn, lukewarm, and without interpretation, but me thinks they doth protest too much. In a backstage interview, Kwiecień spoke about the traditional production with a sense of freedom. A more conventional canvas allows the singers to realize their roles with vivid eloquence.
Christopher Oram’s set featured stacked cubes, not unlike Hollywood Squares, or the jail set in Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango,” their most interesting use during “Madamina, il catalogo è questo.” As Leporello reveals Don Giovanni’s methods to Elvira, each type of woman Giovanni likes is illuminated in a square like a tableau vivant. The same blocks are used to display tombs when Giovanni and Leporello find themselves in the Commendatore’s cemetery.
In a few words, the experience of an HD cinema broadcast: the editors are careful to make sure you’re privy to everything you need to see in order to keep up with the plot, but they need to back off. On several occasions, I found myself admiring Rebeka’s manicure and wondering about the state of Polish dental care.
This production absolutely fulfilled expectations of a Met opera: certainly one of the best productions I will ever see, dizzying skill and beauty, and a few moments of speechless marvel when words seemed inadequate to describe the experience.