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Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni and Isabel Bayrakdarian as Zerlina [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
26 Apr 2009

Don Giovanni at the MET with Peter Mattei

I returned to Don Giovanni firstly because I had never heard Peter Mattei sing, and friends had called him the greatest Don G since Siepi.

W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni: Peter Mattei; Donna Anna: Erin Wall; Donna Elvira: Barbara Frittoli; Don Ottavio: Pavol Breslik; Zerlina: Isabel Bayrakdarian; Leporello: Samuel Ramey; Masetto: Joshua Bloom; Commendatore: Raymond Aceto. Conducted by Louis Langrée. Metropolitan Opera, performance of April 20.

Above: Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni and Isabel Bayrakdarian as Zerlina [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]


(Who else has been in that league? Treigle? Kwiecien? Pape? No one who’s sung it at the Met — as those three have not.)

Mattei is certainly a commanding figure, quite as tall as Erwin Schrott, though not at all good looking, and with — Mattei again — a large, handsome, easily produced sound that fills the Met and falls caressingly on the ear. His serenade was indubitably the evening’s high point, but the furious energy of the Champagne Aria was also a thrill. He can be intimate and suave to four thousand seats — no mean feat, and a major requirement for a successful Giovanni at the Met, but he does not slight the demonic factor. If Giovanni is too charming, if we find ourselves liking this creep, the moral message of the opera falls by the wayside, but if Giovanni is nothing but a thug (as, for instance, Bryn Terfel portrayed him — and also Ruggiero Raimondi in Joseph Losey’s movie), then we find the behavior of all the other characters inexplicable. Women (other than Anna, who hates him from first to last) should be charmed by this rogue until they realize their consent, and that only once, is the only thing that interests him. Some women are turned on by thugs — but two thousand?

Mattei pays attention to the full character: In the scene on the staircase at the evening’s opening, he was rather more obviously trying not merely to rape the unconquered Donna Anna, but also to keep his face averted so that she will not see it — an awkwardness in this production that Scrott failed to make convincing, and in which Mattei was ably abetted by Erin Wall. His occasional shock at seeing himself in the stage-height mirror — director Marthe Keller’s way of luring him to a doom of his own narcissism — indicated a self-doubt that Erwin Schrott never displayed — Schrott was just happy to see his handsome face any chance he got. Many moments that Schrott seemed to pass off casually — or use for opportunities to display his body — were part of the opera again in Mattei’s presentation.

This was a performance that left me wishing for more first-rate singers around Giovanni. The ladies began well, but faded. Erin Wall, the Donna Anna, a fine actress and a pretty woman with a secure soprano capable of expressing anger without growing hard or unwieldy, was first rate in the opening scene and “Or sai che l’onore,” and only ran into trouble in “Non mi dir,” that treacherous pit for any soprano, where the runs and twirls demanded more effort than, at that point in the evening, she still had in her. Barbara Frittoli, as the madcap Donna Elvira, was rather too sensuous all evening for this repressed, indignant figure (this may be the director’s miscue), but she sang Act I beautifully, and the crepuscular trio in Act II was poignant. Her “Mi tradi” was a shock — not a note securely placed, pitch all over the place, whole phrases haywire: an ugly business. Isabel Bayrakdarian, a puzzling singer, seemed to twitter her way through Zerlina — during “La ci darem” I thought she was singing triplets where Mozart had not written any, but no, it was just an unusually wide and quick vibrato. This was okay in “La ci darem,” but rather undercut the simple sincerity that should mark her two arias sung to Masetto. Too — this is Keller’s fault, not the singer’s — surely a peasant girl with a chance to marry a nobleman will want to be alone with him in his “casinetta” and not rip his clothes off in the street, behavior that will surely render subsequent marriage unlikely. (Rational behavior is not the average opera director’s strong point, is it?)

GIOVANNI_Frittoli_and_Matte.gifBarbara Frittoli as Donna Elvira and Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]

Samuel Ramey perforce presented a Leporello who has been serving the family for generations (he looks and sounds old enough to be Giovanni’s grandfather), rather than the companion in lurid high jinks we have had in this production from Ildebrando D’Arcangelo and René Pape. Leporello is a buffo figure, whose music does not call for many sustained notes, so Ramey got through it tidily enough — but the core of the voice being irredeemably shot, every sustained note he did attempt was unpleasant to hear. This was all the sadder in that an ideal Leporello sound, dark and thrilling, was coming from Joshua Bloom, the young and spirited Masetto, who should really be promoted to the other role as soon as may be. At least Ramey’s appearance as Leporello left the Commendatore, a role he has occasionally disgraced, to the competent Raymond Aceto.

Don Ottavio was sung by Pavol Breslik, a Slovakian tenor who had made his New York debut the previous week. He is young and attractive, and his voice too is attractive — but either it’s a size too small for the Met or he has not yet got the hang of projecting it there. There was a nice sheen to his tone, but an audible strain to his line all evening — he is not a Met natural, as Messers Mattei and Bloom certainly are.

Known Mozartean quantity Louis Langrée conducted a swift-moving, delicately flavored Don Giovanni, danceable when dancing was at hand, dark when darkness fell in the score, and at all times careful to give the singers room and pace. One wished he had a second-act cast worthy of his efforts.

My sympathies for Mattei and Langrée were all the greater in that I, too, was surrounded by idiots, hummers, snorers, moaners, whisperers, people explaining the plot to their dates, laughing excessively at the titles, and fiddling with their Blackberries.

John Yohalem

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