The Metropolitan's Noir "Don Giovanni"
Reflections on the new Metropolitan Opera's Production
Reviewed by Seth Lachterman
Ivo van Hove., Director
Nathalie Stutzmann, Conductor
Peter Mattei, Don Giovanni
Adam Plachetka., Leporello
Alexander Tsymbalyuk, Commendatore (i)
Dmitry Belosselskiy. Commendatore (ii)
Federica Lombardi, Donna Anna
Ben Bliss, Don Ottavio
Ana María Martínez, Donna Elvira
Ying Fang, Zerlina
Alfred Walke, Masetto
Ivo van Hove
SET AND LIGHTING DESIGNER
Fantasies, reminiscences, and philosophical tracts have been inspired by Mozart’s ambivalent masterpiece, it is rare that productions deliver such a unified punch.
I’m reminded of the Interview with Michael Haneke in which he remarked how in the Da Ponte operas, considered Italian fare, the recitatives were always thrown away in a parlando slide. There seemed to be a sport in how fast one’s Italian could be spewed.
For Haneke, this practice ruined the possibility of real acting, real dramaturgy, and vitiating any cohesive message on the part of a director.
Director Ivo van Hove has a coherent vision of the moral tone here, and in the process ingeniously resolves the multiple controvertial matters the work presets. I say “controvertial” with necessity as nothing on stage today can avoid the ever-sharpeninng scruiting of social and sexual bias. For example, a popular theme in commentaries about the opera lay claim that the Don is a thinly disguised hero figure, an idealized man to whom Mozart dons his most exciting music which elusively shifts styles to keep us unawares. This view, I believe, has much validity. But, Don’s sexual “conquests” cannot be shown with impunity. The female characters all are far stronger and singularly motivated without the help, abetting, or resistance from male companions. When. Donna Anna is attacked, she aggressively counter-attacks Don, choking him until he’s baffled and floored. The commendatore then butts in as a superfluous paternernalist protector but insists on defending his hardly-defenseless daughter.
The choice of Alfred Walker as Masetto, being a man of color, brought an unexpected edge to the victimized peasant. Masetto, who vividly glares at the Don when he is verbally and physically lessened displays an anger and defiance we rarely see. Zerlina is, as well, assertive, vindictive to her lover’s doubts and hesitations.
Donna Anna is all-too-aware of her former husband’s sins and deceptions. However, she never ceases to painfully ponder giving Don benefits of doubt, conditional forgiveness, and another chance.
Leporello is not seen here as a buffo character, cringing and caviling to the Alpha Don he serves. He’s cynical, weary-of-it-all. Almost all of the Don’s moves appear to him pre-destined, and routine. He’s complicit to the Don’s sexual advances. The role never indulges in the comedic or farcical. Thus, he never neutralizes the evil of Don’s machinations as a comic counterbalance.
The Don here, as in a past production, is magnificently portrayed by Peter Mattei, but cast this time as a psychotic sociopath. He’s weak and cowardly in the women’s retaliations. Mozart’s heroic and scintillating music singled for Mattei’s role is curiously subverted by this Don’s puzzling psyche. At times the Don is the smiling comrade to Leporello, gently chiding him, only to suddenly turn on him savagely. Perhaps the weirdest moment occurs just prior to the Don’s condemnation, with the dining scene. The only party here is Giovanni and Leporello. While the band pipes on, Mattei hurls huge clumps of spaghetti on a plate with chunks of bruchetto. A ludicrious “meal” for the carnivorous Don who never actually tries to eat.
The final damnation is enhanced by projections of fleeting and shadowy horrors reminiscent of Krzysztof Warlikowski's great Salzburg production two years ago of Elektra. A demon swarm floods a overbearing projective space, and the Don is formally damned.