Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s operatic masterpiece, Don Giovannni, based on the legendary seducer, notorious villain and libertine, Don Juan, is presented by the Metropolitan Opera on May 20, broadcast live on WETA Classical’s Opera Matinee.
This new Met production, which has received critical acclaim, stars the renowned Swedish baritone, Peter Mattei, in the title role (he’s sung this role dozens of times), along with a first-rate roster of singers that includes Ana Maria Martinez and Adam Plachetka. Nathalie Stutzmann makes her Met debut as conductor in this production. She’ll return on June 3 to conduct Mozart’s The Magic Flute, another live broadcast from the Met.
Mozart's eternal dramma giocoso remains a force in the opera world, a blend of melodrama, comedy and supernatural elements. Some consider it the greatest opera ever written; books and commentary abound on Mozart's mastery in crafting a glorious work of art -- inventive, dark, compelling, comic, sentimental, lyrical, perfectly idiomatic for each character. Don Giovanni is one of a trio of operas in which Mozart collaborated with the superb Italian librettist, Lorenza da Ponte (if you want to read a fascinating bio, read da Ponte’s!)
How did Mozart feel about the title character? His original title implies an answer:
"Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni", translated as "The Rake Punished, or Don Giovanni".
For this new Met production, Tony-Award winning Director Ivo van Hove chose a modern, urban setting, surrounding by stark grey concrete architecture. Van Hove introduced verbal elements to show Don Giovanni’s anger as his power is questioned and threatened. Small plumes of ominous smoke rise here and there throughout the production, foreshadowing the hellish flames that will engulf Don Giovanni as he is pulled down to hell in the fiery finale.
One of Don Giovanni’s enablers – although reluctant – is his servant, Leporello. In this production, baritone Adam Plachetka sings the role of the perfect foil to the Don -- put-upon, disgruntled and long-suffering, often required to aid Don Giovanni in his conquests yet longing for a better life as a "gentleman". Mozart’s arias for Leperello are delightful and often a comic relief, such as the famous "Catalogue Aria", in which he shows Donna Elvira a long list of Don Giovanni's conquests, thereby scuttling any hope that the Don might be faithful to her.
In a recent interview with the Met’s broadcast host, Debra Lew Harder, Peter Mattei called this production “realistic and cinematic” to convey the menacing tone of the work in our modern world, and explained why the Don behaved in such a power-hungry and abusive way: "Mostly because he can. He is a ruler in his environment; he depends on his power.”
Mattei tell us that for the famous duet, “Là ci darem la mano”, the conductor and director chose a gentle portrayal of Don Giovanni as he uses tenderness and flattery to seduce the naive young bride, Zerlina. Manipulative, yes, but Mattei believes that the Don is sincere in his words, although intended to serve his selfish desires.
Mozart included a cast of characters who circle in Don Giovanni’s orbit. Some fall prey to his charm and charisma, such as, Zerlina, while others – Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Don Ottavio – form a core who maintain a constant presence to hound the Don to repent for his evil ways. Don Giovanni can be charming and charismatic, Mattei explains, but to create charisma and be considered charismatic, others must bolster the image. In Mozart’s hands, the supporting characters and orchestra work in ensemble to create and reinforce the personality of this larger-than-life character, and together they bring him down.
Listen to their entire conversation here:
In a recent review of this production, The New York Times said of Peter Mattei’s performance: “His Giovanni . . .. is wry, temperamentally gray — if still a practiced, persuasive romancer. This isn’t a harried, desperate or raging take on the character." It noted further, “In the character’s long, tempting lines when he’s on the make, Mattei’s tone is buttery yet airy, as irresistible as it was when he first sang this role at the Met 20 years ago. His duets with the soprano Ying Fang, a delicate yet sexy Zerlina, her voice bright but its edges softly rounded, slowed time almost to hypnosis.”
The Times also noted Stutzmann’s conducting as “unexaggerated vitality.”
Bachtrack wrote: "If there is a finer Don Giovanni than Peter Mattei, I haven’t heard him. . . . perfect legato, smooth-as-silk delivery.”
The cast also includes Federica Lombardi as Donna Anna; Ana María Martínez as Donna Elvira; Ying Fang as Zerlina; Ben Bliss as Don Ottavio; bass-baritone Adam Plachetka as Leperello; Alfred Walker as Masetto; and Alexander Tsymbalyuk as the Commendatore.
We hope you’ll tune to WETA Classical’s Opera Matinee on Saturday, May 20 at 1:00pm (ET) for Mozart’s masterpiece, Don Giovanni, presented live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Learn more about the life and music of Mozart
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