The Seduction Catalog: A Bad Boy on the Prowl – 29-09-2008

by James R. Oestreich (NYTimes)

«Marthe Keller’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Metropolitan Opera opened in March 2004, several months before Peter Gelb was named the company’s next general manager, and it was revived a year later, many months before he actually took control. But in its current revival, which opened on Saturday afternoon, this production stands as a plausible representative of the Gelb aesthetic that elevates theater to a near par with music.

With rudimentary but versatile sets by Michael Yeargan, Ms. Keller takes the monumentality of the Met stage in stride rather than trying to amplify it, as Franco Zeffirelli had done in the production that hers happily replaced. No one is lost in dark corners, and the focus of the action is always clear despite Jean Kalman’s subdued lighting. The singers are attractive and mostly believable in their roles, and many are more than passable actors.

The Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott, in fact, may be the Don Giovanni of choice today, acclaimed at least as much for his acting as for his singing. Taking the role for the first time in the house (having sung it with the Met in Japan in 2006), he inhabited it animalistically, all but panting toward the next sexual adventure. So much was he the character that his singing seemed to flow out as naturally as speech, well paced and well tuned if not always glamorous in tone.

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, after some stiffness in his opening number, proved an excellent foil as Leporello, matched closely enough with Mr. Schrott in voice, physique and manner that their exchange of costumes worked seamlessly and all the more hilariously. Without slighting the comic possibilities, Mr. D’Arcangelo made the character genuinely affecting.

Susan Graham’s innate dignity was somewhat undercut in the role of Donna Elvira by the otherwise effective costuming of Christine Rabot-Pinson and stage direction of Gina Lapinski. Were those garish red gloves in the first act supposed to set off the big head of hair (more orange than red to my eyes)? With most of the stock mugging behind her in the second act, Ms. Graham fared better. But her singing, for all its admirable qualities, still lacked a certain fire that the role demands.

Matthew Polenzani sang beautifully as Don Ottavio, with a rich, sure tone, and made the best of the hapless character. But set against his youthful appearance, Krassimira Stoyanova seemed a bit matronly in her bearing, and her soprano, though ranging freely through registers and dynamics, sometimes had a hard edge that spread throughout her last aria.

Isabel Leonard inhabited the role of the impudent, innocent Zerlina as thoroughly as Mr. Schrott did the Don, and the chemistry between them was sizzling. Her singing was fresh, effervescent and lovely.

Joshua Bloom, making his Met debut as the bluff Masetto, more than held his own in this exalted company. Phillip Ens was a sturdy Commendatore.

Louis Langrée, one of New York’s foremost Mozarteans, as music director of the Mostly Mozart Festival, conducted, and he made a fine job of the second act. The first was plagued by slippages, major and minor, between stage and pit.

For the rest, the orchestra displayed its typical agility and finesse. Among its finest moments was the simplest: the plush underlay of Don Ottavio’s aria “Dalla sua pace,” as gorgeously rendered as the melody above it.»

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