Met revives Don Giovanni and it’s a damn mess
by James Jordan (via New York Post) - Imagine if someone left Vermeer’s masterpiece “Girl With a Pearl Earring” out in the rain. That’s what it felt like Wednesday when the Met wrecked “Don Giovanni”: an act of criminal negligence.
The main offender: British conductor Edward Gardner, who could barely lead eight bars of Mozart’s 1787 score without throwing the stage and orchestra pit out of sync.
The complex Act 1 finale — in which legendary womanizer Don Giovanni is confronted by those he’s betrayed — is written as an “imbroglio,” a stylized musical depiction of confusion. But in Gardner’s inept hands, the scene dissolved into actual shambles.
Even the relatively simple “Non mi dir,” a slow, pensive solo for heroine Donna Anna, kept slipping out of tempo, leaving soprano Susanna Phillips teetering from phrase to phrase.
Under these dire circumstances, a detailed critique of the singers is hardly fair. Making the best of the situation were Ildar Abdrazakov as the lecherous Don and Erwin Schrott as his wisecracking sidekick, Leporello. Their contrasting bass-baritones sounded respectively suave and flinty, and the evening’s few laughs were sparked by Schrott’s comic shtick: original, offbeat and expertly timed.
Phillips and the other leading singers — tenor Charles Castronovo as Anna’s lover, Don Ottavio, and soprano Ekaterina Siurina as the peasant bride, Zerlina — offered smooth, well-schooled voices and firm musicianship, though little sense of individual style. Yet they sounded like Pavarotti and Callas alongside soprano Emma Bell, who yelped her way through a rough approximation of Donna Elvira’s music without ever quite landing in tune.
Two more basses completed the cast. David Soar sounded blandly warm in his Met debut as Zerlina’s sweetheart, Masetto, but Raymond Aceto’s threadbare tone lacked any hint of menace as the vengeful Commendatore.
An opera’s musical flaws can sometimes be masked by a clever staging. This wasn’t the case here, as the Met revived Michael Grandage’s production, which seemed stale even in its premiere last season. Before a dreary unit set of weathered stucco walls, the singers mostly just stood around looking uncomfortable in ill-fitting period garb.
The only exciting visual is a spectacular display of pyrotechnics — you can feel the heat from the flames in the audience — when the Don is dragged to hell. But for the rest of a very long evening, it felt like nobody in this “Don Giovanni” gave a damn.