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S & H International Opera Review

Mozart: Don Giovanni
(new production premiere), Soloists, The Metropolitan Opera, James Levine (cond), New York City, March 1, 2004 (BH)

Conducted by: James Levine
Production: Marthe Keller
Set Designer: Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer: Jean Kalman
Donna Anna: Anja Harteros
Donna Elvira: Christine Goerke
Zerlina: Hei-Kyung Hong
Don Ottavio: Gregory Turay
Don Giovanni: Thomas Hampson
Leporello: René Pape
Masetto: Ildar Abdrazakov
Commendatore: Phillip Ens


In a warmly inviting new staging of this classic, director Marthe Keller shows that she can deliver a straightforwardly conceived Don Giovanni that is probably as satisfying as they come. In interviews prior to the premiere, she said she was not aiming for anything radical, since "Nothing can shock me more than the evening news." Understood, and this production, while hardly stodgy, wonít cause too much argument, I predict. Of course, it helps to have a cast that is mighty fine, someone like James Levine in the cockpit, and production colleagues equal to her vision.

Michael Yearginís handsome set, evocatively lit by Jean Kalman, has a series of massive, burnt sienna brick walls from floor to ceiling, each section capable of parting down the center in quiet precision. (For some reason I kept recalling Ken Russellís towering sets for his film, The Devils, although the two productions couldnít be more different.) In the first scene, an enormous staircase at left allows a woman to hurl Giovanni down the steps, and later a strategically placed window on the back wall gives him a vantage point from which to eye potential conquests. Finally, a balcony on the right wall comes in handy when Giovanni and Leporello later decide to confuse Donna Elvira a bit.

René Pape arguably stole the evening as Leporello, with some incisive singing, terrific in-your-face theatrics, and comedic invention that must have been just lying dormant in his recent Schubert recital (fine though that was). When he and Thomas Hampson exchange disguises, it is not only hilarious watching Leporello impersonate Giovanni, but equally funny watching Pape try to mimic Hampson, in what I imagine as friendly kidding around between two singers who might be seen afterward enjoying a few beers together. And in an imaginative bit of musical business in Act II, when Leporello first sees the Commendatore, the frightened Pape stomps off with stiff, percussive steps, his boots landing precisely off the beats, and getting yet another laugh in the process.

I really didnít see anything not to enjoy in the casting. Hei-Kyung Hong made a delicious Zerlina, wearing a sort of slightly dotty Snow White costume in pale yellow chiffon and lipstick-red high heels that seemed to be constantly waving in the air, but there was nothing dotty about her gorgeous singing. Ildar Abdrazakov made an endearing Masetto, and in one scene topples downstage with impressive physical nonchalance. Anja Harteros received one of the loudest ovations of the evening thanks to her nimble, elegant work, as did Christine Goerke and Gregory Turay, who seemed unfazed by some of Levineís faster speeds during some of their more note-heavy passages.

In one of the eveningís more vivid conceptions, the Donís confrontation with the ghost of the Commendatore (Philip Ens) was separated by a huge pane of glass as Hampson extended his hand to match his victimís on the other side. With Ens sounding monolithically stern, snow began to fall Ė some might see ashes swirling Ė that soon escalated into a blizzard as he and the window descended into hell, perhaps imagined here as icy, bitter isolation.

I have to add that Iím probably not the best person to write about this piece, since until last night I donít recall ever seeing a production of this work. More to the point, while I respect the score tremendously, my ears will probably never welcome it as they do Bergís Lulu or Wozzeck. But then Iím a bit strange.

Bruce Hodges




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