By Lynne Gray, PhD
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Sunday, August 9
Starring Hibla Gerzmava, Malin Byström, Serena Malfi, Paul Appleby, Simon Keenlyside, and Adam Plachetka, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From October 22, 2016.
After the wonderful May 22 (with Sutherland & Morris) and July 3 (with Kwiecien & Frittoli) streams of this marvelous opera, you might think that we’ve had enough Giovanni for a while – but this cast has some definite winners in spite of the repeat of its drab and decidedly unexciting three-story set recreating an uninterestingly dark 18th-century Seville. The consummate singing actor, baritone Simon Keenlyside (we’ve seen him in Don Carlo and The Tempest, and as a remarkable Hamlet) smolders dangerously in the title role of Mozart’s version of the legend of Don Juan, creating an unusually dark portrait of the man who believes he is a law unto himself, and is all the more dangerous for his eternally seductive allure. Keenlyside is far more sinister than either Morris or Kwiecien in this role. Adam Plachetka is a fine foil as his occasionally unruly servant Leporello. As you may remember, Giovanni tangles with Donna Anna (Hibla Gerzmava) as the opera opens, and things begin to unravel for him – amusingly aided and abetted by the reappearance in Seville of Donna Elvira (the wonderful, Malin Byström), who is determined not to let her seducer go free. Paul Appleby as Don Ottavio, Donna Anna’s eternally steadfast fiancé adds his delightful tenor to the ensemble. Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi leads the Met Orchestra and Chorus.
Imbuing the familiar Don Juan myth with a captivating combination of comedy, seductiveness, danger, and damnation, Mozart created an enduring masterpiece that has been a cornerstone of the repertory since its 1787 premiere. The cast includes two excellent baritones staring alongside one another as the title Lothario and his faithful yet conflicted servant, Leporello. The same baritone will often have both roles in his repertoire as we saw with the wonderful Luca Pisaroni as Leporello in 2012 at the Met and as the Don just last year. The opera also has three memorable female roles— all multifaceted women who suffer the Don’s abuses and then join together to plot their revenge. The one, lonely tenor, Don Ottavio, does have two lovely arias, but seems almost lost in the power wielded by the women.
The curtain rises on Leporello’s humorous lament (he is Giovanni’s manservant) detailing how he works night and day with no rest, “Notte e giorno faticar.” Since at that particular moment, it is in fact the middle of the night and he is keeping watch while the Don seduces yet another woman – Donna Anna – his complaints seem more than justified. This particular seduction does not go well, however, and Donna Anna escapes the Don’s embraces calling for help. When her father, the Commendatore comes to her aid, he is slain by Giovanni who escapes with Leporello. The distraught Donna Anna is comforted by her fiancé, Don Ottavio, and she extracts from him a pledge to avenge her father.
In the next scene we find the Don and Leporello in the town square – scouting new prospects – when who should arrive but the fiery Donna Elvira – searching for the cad who seduced her and ran. After a rather humorous scene in which the Don slips away and leaves Leporello to deal with the conflicted (angry, but still in love), Donna Elvira, Leporello counsels her to give up her hopeless quest. To bolster his case, he produces an (extremely thick) journal containing his list of the Don’s conquests all across Europe which he details for her in the wonderfully humorous ‘catalog aria’ – “Madamina, il catalogo è questo” (My dear lady, this is the list…of the beauties my master has loved). Elvira is certainly taken aback by the numbers – (“but …. in Spain, there are 1003!”); however, she is not dissuaded from her pursuit – ah, the inextinguishable optimism of a woman bent on reforming her man.
In the meantime, Giovanni has come upon a wedding party in the town square. The joyful peasants Zerlina and Masetto are about to wed, and the Don, now turning his amorous attentions on Zerlina, invites the party to his palace – taking Zerlina aside and telling Leporello to distract Masetto. Giovanni’s next seduction attempt is Zerlina – with the famous – and very beautiful – duet, “Là ci darem la mano” (There we will give each other our hands). He tells her she is destined for a far better life and promises to marry her. The ploy is just about to produce the desired effect when who should reappear, but the now incensed, Elvira, who drags Zerlina away and takes her back to Masetto. As Giovanni wonders whether the stars are against him on this particular day, Donna Anna and her beau, Ottavio, appear and seek to enlist his help in finding the murderer of her father – which of course he offers – until once again Elvira appears and attempts to warn Anna that she should not trust Giovanni, “Non ti fidar, o misera, Di quel ribaldo cor!” (Do not trust his duplicitous heart, miserable woman). Insisting Elvira is mad, Don Giovanni leads her away, but in his bidding Ottavio and Anna adieu, it slowly dawns on Anna that she has heard those words before and she recognizes his voice as that of her father’s murderer. She urges Ottavio to avenge her, “Or sai chi l’onore…” (Now you know who sought to steal my honor).
Alone, Ottavio has his big aria, “Dalla sua pace la mia dipende” (On her peace of mind depends mine too… what pleases her gives life to me). Meanwhile, the Don is back to his usual tricks, instructing Leporello to get everything ready for an evening of wine and dancing with the wonderful drinking song, – “Finch’han dal vino calda la testa,” (Till they have got enough wine and are hot-headed), and separately, Zerlina has been reunited with Masetto, begging him for forgiveness, “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto” (Beat me, dear Masetto). The first act finally ends (I warned you they were long acts!) when Elvira, Anna, and Ottavio attend the Don’s big party in disguise, save Zerlina from the Don yet again, and publicly accuse him of murder — he barely escapes (by pushing Leporello into the accusers), still wondering whether the stars have not turned against him.
The second act begins as Giovanni convinces (with coins, of course) a most reluctant Leporello not to leave his service and instead to help him with his next conquest – this time it is Elvira’s maid – whom he proceeds to serenade, but only after he has first switched clothes with Leporello, and Leporello, now disguised as Giovanni, has led the unsuspecting Elvira away from the new seduction attempt, “Deh, vieni alla finestra, o mio tesoro,” (O come to the window, beloved).
Once again, however, the seduction is interrupted, this time by Masetto with a band of peasants hunting Giovanni. Disguised as Leporello, they do not recognize Giovanni and he manages to send the mob off in other directions – except for Masetto, whom he attacks and leaves lying on the ground. Happily, Zerlina finds the battered Masetto and in “Vedrai, carino….” (Come, beloved, shall I tell thee how what befell thee, soon can be cured), kisses away his pain.
We have still to see the outcome of Leporello’s impersonation of the Don and his attempted seduction of Donna Elvira; Octavio’s last, lovely aria, “Il mio tesoro intanto Andate a consolar” (To my beloved, o hasten, To comfort, to comfort her sad heart) in which he re-dedicates himself to avenging her father; Elvira’s anger at yet another betrayal, “Mi tradì, quell’ alma ingrata,” (Cruel heart, thou hast betray’d me); Giovanni and Leporello’s encounter with the (talking) statue of the Commendatore in a graveyard where they have both come to hide from the still angry mob; the statue’s dire warning and their subsequent extending of a supper invitation to the statue; and finally the supper that is, in fact, to be Giovanni’s last – “Don Giovanni! A cenar teco m’ invitasti” – (Don Giovanni! You invited me to dine with you). The statue offers him one final opportunity to repent, but Giovanni adamantly refuses and is consequently dragged down to a fiery hell right before our eyes….. truly a fitting, and dazzling end to a brilliant – and beautiful – opera!
1. Simon Keenlyside in the title role and Malin Byström as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Met, 2016. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.
2. Hibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna and Kwangchul Youn as the Commendatore in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Met, 2016. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.
3. Simon Keenlyside in the title role and Malin Byström as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Met, 2016. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.
4. Paul Appleby as Don Ottavio, Hibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna and Simon Keenlyside in the title role in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Met, 2016. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.
5. Serena Malfi as Zerlina and Simon Keenlyside in the title role in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Met, 2016. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.
6. Scene from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Met with Simon Keenlyside as the Don and ladies of the evening. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.
7. Kwangchul Youn as the Commendatore, Simon Keenlyside as the Don and Adam Plachetka as Leporello in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Met, 2016. Photo Credit: Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera.
8. Don Giovanni descends to hell as Leporello cowers in horror (Keenlyside and Plachetka) in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Met, 2016. Photo Credit: Emon Hassan for The New York Times.