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You can’t go wrong with Don Giovanni. What? Of course you can – after all, critics have to get that phrase about ‘The director’s graveyard’ in somewhere. Much was expected of Ivo van Hove after his widely praised A View from the Bridge, and at the Met he did pretty much the same thing, which is a fierce concentration on the interactions between characters, and a fairly neutral background culminating in a moderately spectacular ending.
Jan Versweyveld’s set design is clearly influenced by the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico; we have seen those seemingly endless arches before, and they lend a sense of austerity to the backdrop against which the characters live out their dramas. Versweyveld’s lighting can be somewhat crepuscular for the cinema, but overall it’s expertly done in terms of suggesting atmosphere and highlighting moments of crisis.
It’s the singing, of course, which makes this production, and that is exceptionally fine with very few flaws. The best performances come from Peter Mattei’s suave, mellifluously phrased Don, and Ying Fang’s wonderfully dulcet, sweet-toned Zerlina. Mattei has been singing this role for decades, and he brings to it a completely convincing aura of world-weariness mixed with aggression: this is a really nasty piece of work, but in common with all the other great exponents of the part his serenades and seductions are sung with persuasive charm. ‘Deh’ vieni alla finestra’ held us all spellbound with its delicacy and sincerity, and ‘Là ci darem la mano’ was as perfect a duet as you’ll hear on any stage.
Ben Bliss was a more than usually credible Ottavio; he has a strikingly forceful voice for a lyric tenor, and although he was a trifle challenged by some of his higher notes, (what tenor isn’t?) he gave beautifully phrased and ambitiously decorated accounts of both Dalla sua pace and Il mio tesoro. His frustration at not being able to marry Anna was very convincing.
Federica Lombardi’s Anna and Ana María Martínez’ Elvira were an exceptionally strong pair, not just vocally but also in terms of their characters. Lombardi’s Non mi dir was sung with great feeling, and her ensemble singing was impeccable. Elvira is perhaps the more challenging role, and Martínez gave it her all, singing with passionate drama and managing to avoid sounding shrill or petulant.
“It’s the singing, of course, which makes this production…”
Adam Plachetka had been directed as a sardonic rather than jovial Leporello; his diction was incisive and his tone persuasive, and it would be hard to imagine a better sung Catalogue Aria. The other two men did not fare quite so well; Alfred Walker’s Masetto did not quite hit the mark, and although Alexander Tsymbalyuk has the heft for the Commendatore, he was not helped by the rather underwhelming presentation of his appearance in the ‘graveyard’ and at Giovanni’s house.
Apart from the 18th century outfits worn by the three ‘masked guests’, An D’Huys’ costume designs had the characters dressed in muted cocktail wear, looking as if they were about to participate in a North London dinner party.
Nathalie Stutzmann was as much the star of the show as Mattei, and she coaxed a superb performance from an orchestra now at the top of its game. There were no weaknesses in any section, with especially fine work from the ‘cellos and woodwind. Balance between stage and pit was ideal.
There was no great blaze of fire to consume the Don at the end; instead we had a kind of mottled version of Hell out of a monochrome Jackson Pollock. Not quite as stirring as the blood at the close of A View from the Bridge, but it concluded an exceptionally well sung and played production.
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