[Met Performance] CID:132120
Don Giovanni {106} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 12/5/1941.


Metropolitan Opera House
December 5, 1941 Matinee


Don Giovanni............Ezio Pinza
Donna Anna..............Rose Bampton
Don Ottavio.............Charles Kullman
Donna Elvira............Jarmila Novotna
Leporello...............Salvatore Baccaloni
Zerlina.................Bidú Sayao
Masetto.................Arthur Kent
Commendatore............Norman Cordon

Conductor...............Bruno Walter

Review of Virgil Thomson in the New York Herald Tribune

Beauty and Considerable Distinction

"Don Giovanni" (the Met gave it yesterday afternoon) is about the most beautiful and interesting opera in the world. It is also the most difficult work to produce I know of. Yesterday's production faced those difficulties squarely and solved many of them (nobody ever solves all) in a distinguished manner.

To begin with, the piece requires nine first-class musical artists. It needs an eight-star cast and a great conductor. Bruno Walter did well as the great conductor. Not ideally, but well, very well. He gave the music grandeur of line and intimacy of expression. I found his tempi reasonable and just, though not invariably absolute, and the sequence of them impressively dramatic. There is, nevertheless, a taste of sugar in Walter's Mozart that I have never found wholly acceptable. Also a plodding regularity in the passages that ought to be fiery that gives to his renditions a respectable, a safe-and-sane aspect. What makes them great conducting, all the same, is their large number of dynamic levels (he thinks of far more intensities than just loud and soft) and the fact that they are not conceived page by page but always as a beginning-to-end unity. There is nothing vulgar about Walter's "Don Giovanni," nothing cheap or meretricious or in any way superficial. I could have wished it a little more glorious, more possessive, less respectful of the work's antiquity and prestige.

Our Metropolitan possesses for this opera five-eighths of an all-star cast. Pinza, Baccaloni and Cordon, as Don Giovanni, Leporello and the Cornmendatore, are irreproachable. Sayao and Kent, who do Zerlina and Masetto, are vocally all right and dramatically pleasing, but their archness is going to wear thin pretty soon. By playing on the comic level always they give themselves an air of kidding the show, of caricaturing humanity. Those rôles were not written so broadly as that. Masetto, in particular, is one of the most interesting characters in the play. These two singers do an intelligent and detailed job, however; and I am not eager to see them replaced. I should merely like their work de-hammed a bit.

Of the remaining three singers Kullman, as Don Ottavio, gave yesterday's most nearly satisfactory performance. It is a difficult rôle, that of the mere fiancé. Kullman behaved with dignity and did some good, singing. Though more accustomed to Puccini than to Mozart, he showed evidence of a serious and reflected approach to the music. I fancy that when he has sung it as long as Pinza and Baccaloni have he may be just as great an ornament to the cast.

Novotna gave an elegant performance as Donna Elvira. Her personal distinction and her fine musicianship are always a source of pleasure. But she is utterly miscast as an irate dramatic soprano. The music is full of the swishing of skirts, of great vocal skips, of the most furious arpeggios. She has not the vocal power or the exuberant energies to carry them off. She is obliged to transpose the whole into a key that is a shade too noble and tubercular for my understanding of the rôle.

Bampton's Donna Anna was better than Milanov's of last year. She has a voice of great power, and her final aria was intoned with the utmost of resonance and of purity. Elsewhere she buzzed a bit, and her musical line was flaccid. I do not imagine she will sing the rôle long.

The scenic mounting was that made by Josef Urban in 1929. It looks much older. I should hate to see the opera redesigned right now, because the Met's latest settings show a tendency toward brutality both in concept and in execution that is far from inspiring confidence. The Urban sets are well drawn, well painted and rich in color. They are both tasty and sumptuous. But they are full of holes and floppy. I wonder if a few of the flats couldn't be remade.

"Don Giovanni," under Walter's direction, and with the admirable singing and acting of Pinza, of Baccaloni and of Cordon, remains, for all its lack of ultimate perfection, one of the best musico-dramatic productions in the Metropolitan repertory and an operatic experience that should be profoundly moving to any musical person, Its faults are all inevitable ones, given the artists available and the necessity of trying out various of these till the whole is really cast right, which is no small chore. None of them is due to carelessness or to irresponsibility.

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