Schrott seductive as ‘Don Giovanni’ – 02-10-2008

by Bradley Bambarger (The Star-Ledger /

«Mozart’s three operas written with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte are comedies about a serious thing: sex. Two of these revolve around the complications that arise when sex rubs up against issues of class (“Le Nozze di Figaro”) and loyalty (“Cosi fan Tutte”). With “Don Giovanni,” it’s the tragicomedy of sex and morality — the culpability of both the seducer and those who want to be seduced.

In the Metropolitan Opera’s “Don Giovanni,” Erwin Schrott plays Don Juan as demonic peacock, strutting on stage with his muscled chest just out in front of his arrogant pout. This compulsive rake is an emotional nihilist who loathes the losers in his seduction games — those women in thrall to his looks and skills despite what they know and say. Sometimes the rogue has to trick his prey; sometimes they’re asking for it.

Schrott is the Don of the day, a 35-year-old Uruguayan bass whose career ascent has been measured (top prizes at Placido Domingo’s 1998 Operalia competition notwithstanding). Now, he has a Decca record deal, as well as his share of celebrity headlines. The world’s hottest opera star — Russian soprano Anna Netrebko — had his baby last month.

These days, opera singers have to look their parts, as well as sing them. Schrott’s Latin looks provide ideal verisimilitude for a Don Juan (think Antonio Banderas). Director Gina Lapinski takes full advantage, having him shirtless in the opening scene. But Schrott’s virile voice fills the bill, too. His tone is coffee-colored; his phrasing beautiful but dramatic, like heightened speech. He is also a natural stage creature, radiating energy.

The entire cast is excellent. Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova plays Donna Anna. She is nearly raped by Don Giovanni, who kills her father, the Commendatore, somewhat reluctantly when he attempts a rescue. (The Commendatore’s ghost will haunt the Don by the end, although Schrott plays haunting better than haunted.) Stoyanova got Wednesday night’s biggest cheers for an exquisitely shaded “Non, mi Dir,” the aria where she puts off her fiance until she can resolve her Don Giovanni issues (ostensibly revenge, but maybe it’s not that simple).

Isabel Leonard is sweet of face and voice as Zerlina, who nearly succumbs to the Don on her wedding day but is able to soothe her ruffled fiance with a coo or two. Susan Graham has the hardest role, as Donna Elvira, an older woman who, despite her protestations, keeps falling for the rogue, to his disgusted amusement. The strong American mezzo seems a bit uncomfortable playing a patsy, but she sings stylishly.

As for the guys who don’t get many points for being good, tenor Matthew Polenzani, as Anna’s intended, makes the most of his haplessly lyrical moments. Joshua Bloom, as Zerlina’s Masetto, looks and sounds like he could play Don Giovanni, if given a chance. The opera’s heart is Leporello, Don Giovanni’s semi-reluctant right-hand man. Italian bass Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (who also looks Don-worthy) fills the part with subtle warmth, his “Catalog Aria” low-key but charming.

The ensembles of mixed emotions, from trios to septets, came together wonderfully on Wednesday, and the Met orchestra played with its usual acuity. Conductor Louis Langree — director of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival — has a leaner, more period-influenced way with the composer than has often been heard at the Met. But his phrasing seems more apt for light than shade, as the ever-incredible overture and “stone guest” scene could have used a darker power.

For all the hearts racing on stage, Marthe Keller’s rather conservative 2004 production lacks the conceptual edge that a 21st-century “Don Giovanni” should have. Still, designer Michael Yeargan’s stone walls are evocative of the Don’s hard heart, the shadowy spaces just right for those who don’t care.»


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