BWW Review: Mostly Mozart's DON GIOVANNI Goes Back in Time
Though the title role in Mozart's DON GIOVANNI goes to the fabled lady killer--and Mostly Mozart's production was lucky to have a first-rate Don in baritone Christopher Maltman--the opera is a real ensemble piece, with every one of a half dozen characters key to a successful performance. In the Budapest Festival Orchestra's lively performance at Mostly Mozart in Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall last week, a production first seen here in 2011, under conductor and director Ivan Fischer, there was an extra element: an ensemble that tripled as chorus, dancers and, yes, scenery.
And, for me, this turned out to be the most successful aspect of the production, at least with the cast chosen for this year's set of performances. The 16 young actors (all students of the University of Theatre and Film in Budapest) dressed as living statues were marvelous, whether cavorting as peasants or in doubling for the entrance to hell for Giovanni at the opera's conclusion. It was great fun watching them, totally unself-conscious and ready for anything.
The production is a black-box performance, with no physical scenery, except for some platforms used for climbing, from designer Edit Zeke and lighting designer Andrew Hill, and not much in the way of costumes, except for the singers' street clothes (or seeming so), which put even more than the usual emphasis on the singers.
Outside of Maltman's sonorous Don (though, of course, he doesn't have much chance to show off, besides the quick-and-its-gone Champagne Aria and the "La ci darem la mano" duet) and, to a lesser extent Zoltan Megyesi's well-turned Ottavio, Sylvia Schwartz's smartly sung Zerlina and Kristinn Sigmundsson's fearsome Commendatore, the casting seemed quite off. Laura Aikin was underpowered as Anna, though she managed to marshal her resources to put across the wonderful "Non mi dir"; Lucy Crowe's Elvira made a good impression dramatically, but I thought the veiled quality of her singing detracted from her overall success in the role.
For me, the best performances of the work show a thread among its three baritones--the Don, his servant Leporello and the country bumpkin Masetto (spouse-to-be of Zerlina)--a progression, where you can imagine Leporello moving up to Giovanni (as he, indeed, must pretend to do in a key scene) and Masetto morphing into Leporello. None of that seemed possible here.
Though Jose Fardilha made a nice job of the Catalogue Aria, he definitely seemed simply a character actor-no leading man in hiding. The same was true for Matteo Peirone who, while sounding well enough as Massetto, threw the balance of the opera off for me, though not necessarily in an altogether bad way. As an older match for the country girl Zerlina, it made it more plausible for her head to be turned by the attention of Giovanni on the eve of her wedding (though she denies it, of course).
Put all these performances together and even Maltman's fine work seemed a little out of place--too big a presence for the company he kept and throwing off the balance of the piece. I'd like to hear his Giovanni some time in a cast of equals.
The disappointment in the performance was increased by the fact that Fischer chose the Prague version of the opera-where it had its debut in 1787. While it moved along swiftly--imagine a DON that clocked in at just three hours!--some of the music that we have grown to cherish hadn't yet made its way into the piece. Elvira hadn't yet gotten her great aria, "Mi tradi"--singing about how the Don had done her wrong-and the sad sack Ottavio was without "Dalla sua pace"--how his own happiness is linked to Donna Anna's. On paper, it might seem minor; on stage, it was a true loss.