BWW Review: Paris Opera Gives Us a Look at the Met's New DON GIOVANNI from the Palais Garnier
Thanks to the French online service, France.tv, opera-goers in New York have had a chance to see what lies ahead with the new production of Mozart's DON GIOVANNI by Ivo van Hove, with its great score. Health crisis willing, it will make its debut at the Met next March.
The good news is that van Hove didn't bring any of his more outre touches to the production, including the over-used projections that a good part of those seeing WEST SIDE STORY this season (or his NETWORK a season earlier) on Broadway found distracting if not destructive to the work.
On the other hand, he didn't have many ideas that fixed da Ponte's (and/or Mozart's) view of women--considered repulsive even in their time, the late 18th century--except for downplaying the most offensive part of "Batti, batti" or "Beat me, beat me," as Zerlina sings to her fiancé, Masetto (baritone Mikhail Timoshenko), if he thinks she has been untrue.
Neither did van Hove seem to offer many insights about the fire that burns within the Don to seduce and conquer women, and beat their lovers or kill their fathers (bass Ain Anger, il Commentatore). In fact, one of the touches he uses--the male chorus members are played by live people, while all the women "extras" are department store mannequins--seemed rather offensive.
This is a modern-dress vision of the opera, with a brutalist set (which softens somewhat after the Don's trip to a hell filled with figures that might have been created by Hieronymous Bosch) by Jan Versweyveld (who also did the lighting), with projections by Christopher Ash, and darkly muted costumes by An D'Huys.
They all seem to have Mozart's original subtitle in mind: "Il dissoluto punito," "The debauched one punished," though van Hove chooses to translate it as "The criminal punished." Of course, Don Giovanni has lots of what he considers "fun" before that punishment catches up with him.
Luckily, it has (for me at least) Mozart's most seductive score, and it sounded great with Philippe Jordan conducting the Paris Opera Orchestra. My favorite arias (none of the cast from Paris are scheduled to be in the New York production) belong to Donna Elvira (here, the pungent soprano Nicole Car): "Ah! chi mi dice mai", "Ah, fuggi il traditor" and "Mi tradi."
Donna Anna (the wonderful soprano Jacquelyn Wagner) has "Or sai chi l'onore" and "Non mi dir" although Leporello's (the amusing Philippe Sly, also a Don Giovanni) "Catalogue aria," which outlines the Don's conquests, country by country (officially "Madamina, il catalogo è questo") manages to charm. Even the opera's least charismatic figure, Don Ottavio (the dull tenor Stanislas de Barbeyrac as fiancé of Donna Anna), has two wonderful arias, "Il mio Tesoro" and "Da sua pace," though they show how one-sided his romance with Anna is.
It's always surprising that the opera's name character, Don Giovanni (baritone Étienne Dupuis, sonorous but not particularly charismatic), has no major aria of his own. Sure he has "La ci darem la mano," but that's a duet with Zerlina (soprano Elsa Dreisig, less pert than usual), the and the opera's famous "Fin ch'han dal vino," better known as the "Champagne Aria," is quite short, as is "Deh, vieni alla finestra" and "Metà di voi qua vadano" doesn't seem a musical highlight to me--more a sing-song recitative than a proper aria.
I'm looking forward to the Met's production next spring (hope springs eternal...), with Peter Mattei as the Don, Gerald Finley as Leporello, Ailyn Perez as Anna, Isabel Leonard as Elvira, Hera Hyesang Park as Zerlina, Ben Bliss as Ottavio, Ryan Speedo Green as the Commendatore and Alfred Walker as Masetto--and to see what fine-tuning van Hove has done since the Paris premiere in 2019.
For more information on the Met's projected 2020-2021 season, as well as the free programming that is being offered by the Met while the world tries to get the coronavirus under control, see the Met's website. (There are also some PBS performances on Great Performances at the Met coming up, including this season's AKHNATEN with Anthony Roth Costanzo.) France.tv has a listing of other operas coming up in the weeks ahead.