This being a production
from New York’s Metropolitan Opera,
I guess you’d expect something safe
and traditional. And that’s exactly
what we get, a no-holds-barred period
piece from Zeffirelli that many people
will find a tonic to any anachronistic
‘director’ theatre, or pared-down modernist
staging. Indeed, the sheer opulence
of this re-staging of the 1990 original
takes one’s breath away. The costumes
are truly sumptuous, with every lacy
cuff, heaving bosom and powdered wig
in place. As for the set (also by Zeffirelli),
there is a scale and grandeur that threaten
to dwarf the singers. Huge marble columns,
massive fretwork gates and fresco backdrops
fill the Met’s stage, making the whole
thing look unnervingly like a Canaletto
or Titian come to life.
It’s a good job the
starry international cast are ‘big’
enough in their vocal talents and acting
prowess to overcome this, indeed to
complement it. It’s definitely the men
who win out here, with Bryn Terfel’s
Giovanni dominating everything and everyone.
Terfel’s vocal talents are well known,
and the range on display here is awesome,
from the sotto voce word pointing
in ‘La ci darem’ to a floor-shaking
welter of tone in the Commendatore scenes.
The acting is no less impressive; it
is obvious at every turn that this Don
blends animal magnetism and manipulative
cruelty in equal measure. It’s so easy
to see why the women fall for his sexual
advances, yet his beating of Masetto
in Act 2 is done with a near psychopathic
glee that recalls Goodfellows.
The quality of the all-round portrayal
had the commentators reaching for superlatives,
some going back to Siepi for a suitable
comparison, and it’s hard to disagree.
He is well partnered
by the Leporello of Ferruccio Furlanetto,
an experienced actor who is already
on Arthaus’s DVD of the same opera,
where he teams up with the other great
Don of our times, Thomas Allen. Furlanetto
obviously relishes every subtlety without
overacting, and the interplay (and identity
swapping) between the two is one of
the best things here.
The other men are good
rather than outstanding. Paul Groves
tries to drag Ottavio above the wimpish,
but I can never hear his two famous
arias without hearing the golden tones
of Fritz Wunderlich, a cruel comparison.
John Relyea is an engaging Masetto but
I could have done with more vocal weight
form Koptchak’s Commendatore.
The women acquit themselves
well, though they are inevitably a foil
for the men. Fleming’s rather breathy
Anna is well characterised, and she
certainly looks fabulous. Contrasting
with her tone is the clean, razor-sharp
intensity of Solveig Kringelborn and
the youthful precision of Korean-born
Hei-Kyung Hong’s vivacious Zerlina.
The staging does nothing
to upset, and all moments of comedy
are well handled. Some of the darker
aspects of the score are glossed over
– it’s possible to feel that Terfel
would have gone a stage further with
a more adventurous director, but this
is certainly a production Mozart would
have recognised and probably approved
of. Levine conducts a direct, unfussy
reading at sensible speeds, totally
in keeping with the nature of the production,
and the Met orchestra play with suppleness,
grace and power.
Camerawork by director
Gary Halvorsen is unobtrusive though
fairly rudimentary, and picture and
sound quality are excellent. Overall,
it’s hard not to give this Don a warm
welcome. It is not without competition,
including the already-mentioned Arthaus
Cologne production from 1991, but this
has more-or-less everything you want
for the library shelf and repeated viewings.
For those irritated by modern psychological
stagings, this set could well provide
the perfect answer.