New York’s Metropolitan Opera has brought its stunning new production of Don Giovanni to a theatre near millions of people around the world who could otherwise not imagine seeing it. There are many things one can say about Ivo van Hove’s vision of the opera. Idiosyncratic, perhaps eccentric, maybe unorthodox, highly imaginative, thought-provoking, even controversial. You can choose other descriptions but the conclusion should be that this is an extraordinary production of a great opera.
It is a modern dress production but the suits and ordinary dresses worn by the cast with few exceptions are just the beginning. The pretty country girl Zerlina and the bumpkin Masetto that she is about to marry are dressed in ordinary clothes with no indication of class difference between them and the aristocratic Don Giovanni and the other upper crust members.
The set goes further in capturing van Hove’s bleak view. Several stark concrete buildings form a cul-de sac. There are openings for doors and windows but they are just gaping holes. The set is rotated at some points but there are no interior scenes and no indication of wealth or views of the countryside. Simple concrete.
What kind of Don Giovanni do we get? I think the best way to describe him is as a relative of Donald Trump. He is a slimy lecher who considers women as sex objects to be had and discarded. You can forget any notions of the romantic lover. He is no doubt a talented seducer with money and status to fool most women but they represent the proverbial notches on the headboard of his bed and are not worthy of more consideration.
Take the opening scene where the beautiful Donna Anna (Federica Lombardi) is grabbing Don Giovanni as he tries to get away from her room where they had sex. She wants to know who he is and he refuses to identify himself. We see how he operates when he tries to seduce the innocent Zerlina, a country girl who is about to get married. She falls for his devilish lies. Did he pull the same stunt on Donna Anna and she fell in love with him? Now that he had his “notch” he is no longer interested.
The same story is seen in his relationship with Donna Elvira (Ana Maria Martinez). She is a previous victim looking for him, not to punish him, but to get him back. This Donna Elvira is constructed terrifically by van Hove and sung and acted superbly by Martinez. She is not a young woman but one that is almost ready to be put on the proverbial shelf and there is desperation on her search for her lost and perhaps last love. This Donna Elvira is much more credible than an irate woman looking for revenge.
When Leporello (Adam Plachetka) reads out the catalogue of Don Giovanni’s “conquests” to Donna Elvira, it is in fact a list of victims who believed his grotesque lies and served his momentary sexual lust before being discarded like a used napkin.
Near the end of the opera, Donna Anna tells her patient and loving fiancée Don Ottavio (Ben Bliss) that she will postpone their wedding for a year. I have thought that this postponement is prompted by her love of Don Giovanni. In this production she shows genuine affection for Don Ottavio and it may be another twist by van Hove.
The singing is outstanding. Baritone Peter Mattei, wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie, delivers a stunningly sung Trumpian scumbag of a Don Giovanni. He just loves women, he tells us. Bass-baritone Adam Plachetka is a superb Leporello, long-suffering with sparks of decency but unable to do much. In the end I thought he would walk off with Donna Elvira bur servants don’t get aristocratic women.
Federica Lombardi as Donna Anna is gorgeous in her singing and acting. We can decide for ourselves the motivations of the Commendatore’s (Alexander Tsymbalyuk) daughter but we can only heap praise on Lombardi for her silk voice and marvellous performance.
Martinez’s Donna Elvira who can be seen as a woman raging with ire and passion is here a lady in pain looking for a lost, and as I said, perhaps, last love. Martinez has been made to look the part and her performance is simply stellar.
Soprano Ying Fang’s Zerlina is very pretty, sings beautifully, is ambitious but not very bright. We love her regardless and we applaud her when she persuades the oafish Masetto of Alfred Walker that she still loves him even though she bolted almost from the altar. Just wonderful.
A simply marvellous production.
Don Giovanni by W. A. Mozart was shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on May 20 and will be rebroadcast on June 10, 2023 at various Cineplex theatres. For more information: www.cineplex.com/events