|Ivo's excellent adventure - DON GIOVANNI at the Met|
|Last Edit: singleticket 06:41 pm EDT 05/27/23|
|Posted by: singleticket 06:23 pm EDT 05/27/23|
|For a director whose stage work I've more or less given up on, I am now a fan of Ivo van Hove's opera direction. This afternoon's performance was the best production of Don Giovanni I've seen at the Met and in my opinion the only successful one I've seen at the Met as well. Act One was probably the best production I've ever seen anywhere, on stage or on screen.
What made it so excellent? Well, the biggest surprise for me was that van Hove not only has directed his very agile cast to bring Mozart's opera to life dramatically but he has also either directed or made space for his singer/actor's to give sung line-readings that I've never experienced in an opera house. Certain lines and passages of the arias and recitatives are performed with character shadings that are also musical shadings. Sometimes these sung line-readings are comic, like Anna Maria Martinez' Donna Elvira's aggressively rolled Spanish rrrr's. Others are sardonic, plaintive but all done harmoniously so that they feel like they are emerging as a part of the character in a disarmingly informal way.
Then there are the recitative passages that are taken as seriously and are given as much stage time as the arias with remarkable results. Don Giovanni's seduction of Zerlina is the first time in the opera that we get to see Don Giovanni in full seduction-attack mode. And Peter Mattei pulls it off brilliantly. Here is a seducer who is not only an addict but a deadly one, a black belt seducer. Mattei's movements were snake like with shadings of Judo or Tai Chi moves. It was scary and effective. I don't think I've seen a better vocal and dramatic performance of the role. Mattei's vocal range is thrilling. 'Deh, vieni alla finestra' felt like an intimate art song, hushed and honeyed. It had me panting as well as Donna Elvira, appearing in a balcony above.
Which brings me to something I've found default in many of van Hove's production but works here like magic and that is a palpable erotic charge to the direction and the way that the cast interacts. Imagine that, a Don Giovanni that is genuinely sexy in an opera about sexual desire and conquest, sexual violence and addiction.
Act Two pleased me less, with one of my least loved Ivo-isms... a food fight or food getting thrown around stage. Until that moment van Hove's interpretation of the Da Ponte's libretto felt decidedly un-regietheater. It was satisfyingly matter of fact. Don Octavio played by the appealing and sweet-voiced American tenor Ben Bliss was exactly what the libretto says he is... a faithful, loving man who is nevertheless tortured by the obsessive grief of the woman he loves.
But moments of Act Two also reminded me of another sinking feeling I've gotten from van Hove's stage productions and that is "why am I still watching this". Van Hove can make a compelling world and offer his performers generous space and time to fully embody their characters but the characters tend to remain in a kind of dramatic stasis. This production's Don Giovanni just seems to get more addicted, more childish as the story went on. And when he is finally gone we feel a sense of relief that the production underlines in a charming final stage picture. But there is a feeling that even though Mozart and Da Ponte's opera has been well and honestly served by van Hove, it hasn't been delved into that deeply. But you can't have everything and here is a production that wins on almost all levels and is very entertaining and satisfying.
There are other great voices and performers in this cast. And I loved the conducting by the French conductor Nathalie Stutzmann, a reading that felt as seductive and snake-like as van Hove's production.
I would say this is a must-see. There is one more performance. It will be certainly be brought back but who knows what the casting will be and who knows if van Hove will personally prepare the future casts.
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