Ripped From a Romance Cover

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The New York Sun

‘Don Giovanni,” Mozart’s opera about that appalling man, was revived again at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoon. The production is that from 2004 by Marthe Keller. And in the pit was Louis Langrée.

New York audiences know him best as the music director of the Mostly Mozart Festival. A Frenchman, he exhibits many of the traits associated with his country, including elegance and refinement. He is one of the best phrasers in Mozart now working. And, on Saturday afternoon, he had a chance to work with an exceptionally good orchestra.

The overture did not go especially well. Right off the bat, there was a bad entrance. The next chord was nailed, fortunately. But the overture’s opening section was strangely chipper — light — without foreboding and gravity. The second section was fast, not to say hurried. And the Met orchestra, in an atypical turn, was sloppy.

If Mozart’s overture had a single problem, it was this: It was superficial — disappointingly superficial.

But Mr. Langrée had three hours of music to go. And he did some A-1 conducting, to go with some so-so conducting. In the main, he showed understanding, energy, and professional commitment. He was guilty of no extremes — he’s too faithful to music for that. And he gave us “Don Giovanni” as it is.

In the title role was Erwin Schrott, the Uruguayan bass. He entered with his hair flowing and his chest bared, like that model Fabio, who graced the cover of many a romance novel. Stage directors are loath to let Mr. Schrott keep his shirt on, and I suppose they can’t be blamed.

In his singing, Mr. Schrott was sometimes as smooth as he looked. At other times, he was lax, allowing some flatness, for example. And he sang an Hispanicized Italian, particularly in his recitatives. That is almost inevitable. But he had the spirit and swagger of Don Giovanni — and ended triumphant (if swallowed in hellfire).

His partner in crime, Leporello, was portrayed by another bass, the remarkably named Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. As befits someone from Italy, he was Italianate. And he had many exemplary passages — these included the very first (sung) measures of the opera. But he had some unfortunate passages, too.

The main problem was that he was too heavy — particularly in Leporello’s Catalogue Aria. The music has bounce, lilt, and fun, and the rendition, largely, did not.

This was an unusually well-acted “Don Giovanni,” and surely some credit must go to the director, Gina Lapinski. Between Giovanni and Leporello there was a nicely sinister camaraderie. And Mr. D’Arcangelo drew real laughs, as Leporello impersonated the don.

Sometimes, the least well-known member of a cast proves the best. And that was arguably the case here. Krassimira Stoyanova, a Bulgarian soprano, sang Donna Anna. She was absolutely first-class. She was melting, poignant, and precise. Her voice is lyric, but she can also penetrate. And she is obviously a smart, smart musician.

Just a single detail from her performance: Shortly before the aria “Non mi dir,” she floated just about the prettiest B flat you’ll ever hear.

The tenor portraying Don Ottavio was Matthew Polenzani, Chicago’s own. He shines in the role of Ottavio, as in others. I heard him sing the part in Salzburg last month. The difference between now and then? Well, Mr. Polenzani is presently clean-shaven. And he got to sing both of Ottavio’s arias at the Met, whereas in Salzburg he was reduced to just one. (Don’t ask.)

In a public interview over there, Mr. Polenzani noted that some tenors hope to “graduate out of” Mozart roles. But he himself hopes to go on and on in them — and that is a service to audiences. There are at least two great Mozart tenors in the world now, Mr. Polenzani and Michael Schade, and that is two more than the world sometimes has.

Susan Graham knows her way around Mozart. The mezzo from Midland, Texas, was Donna Elvira in this “Don Giovanni.” She had some trouble on high notes — reaching for them and falling short. But of her all-around musicianship, there was no doubt.

Singing Zerlina was the young New York-born sensation Isabel Leonard. She is so beautiful, it’s almost unfair that she sings — and sings very, very well. For example, “Batti, batti” was a model of Mozartean simplicity. Another aria, “Vedrai, carino,” was maybe a little “operatic,” which is to say, a little big. In any case, Ms. Leonard was the most perfect country lass you ever saw.

When she appeared, I swear I heard gasps.

Making his Met debut was the Australian bass Joshua Bloom, who, as Masetto, was solid. The Commendatore was a Canadian bass, Phillip Ens, and he, too, was solid.

Overall, this performance had rare vitality, delight, pathos, and purpose. This was a tribute to Mr. Langrée — and to his host of singers. And of course to Mozart (and his librettist, Da Ponte, who was as rakish as Don Giovanni, but less brutal).

Ms. Keller’s production may not be your favorite. When it was unveiled in 2004, I used the words “bricky gigantism” to describe its general look. But it is a pleasing and suitable production, and it has undergone improvements over these years. Plus, compared with Salzburg’s production, it is highest art. In Salzburg, they wrench the opera from Mozart’s hands and pervert it out of recognition. Some people call this “progressive.”

And they want such productions at the Metropolitan Opera. They say that the Met is too square. But productions that work with the operas are not square — they are sensible and right. And may the Met bear this in mind, through all the pressure from the trend-setters.

The New York Sun

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