[Met Performance] CID:164220
Don Giovanni {168} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/10/1953.

(Debut: Cesare Valletti

Metropolitan Opera House
December 10, 1953
Revised production

Mozart-Da Ponte

Don Giovanni............Nicola Rossi-Lemeni
Donna Anna..............Margaret Harshaw
Don Ottavio.............Cesare Valletti [Debut]
Donna Elvira............Eleanor Steber
Leporello...............Erich Kunz
Zerlina.................Roberta Peters
Masetto.................Lorenzo Alvary
Commendatore............Luben Vichey

Conductor...............Max Rudolf

Director................Dino Yannopoulos
Set designer............Charles Elson

Don Giovanni received twelve performances this season.

[In revising the sets for Mozart's opera, Elson utilized elements from the previous production designed by Joseph Urban.]

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times

It is striking, apropos of the newly staged "Don Giovanni" given last night at the Metropolitan, to reflect that the principal merits of the occasion were those of the musical performance, and the conspicuous shortcomings those of the spectacle and action. And this is exactly contrary to the emphasis the management has placed upon the importance of its scenic and dramatic innovations. Scenic distortion and ineffectiveness seem almost a too frequent feature of the revivals or "renovations,", so-called, of old works at our famous lyric theatre.

And so last night. The sovereign feature of the evening was Max Rudolf s conducting, a masterly interpretation of the score. One knew, with the first chords of the overture, that this would be the case. The tempi would be right, the balances and phrasings those of a musician sensitive to Mozart and thoroughly versed in his style. And so it was, from beginning to end, and an enormous asset to the effect of the incomparable opera.

There were other musical excellences, important among them the debut of Cesare Valletti, the new Metropolitan tenor, who was the Don Ottavio. His voice is not overlarge, but he has a beautiful style and he delivered with finish, flexibility and fine taste the two great airs of the first and second acts. He even looked like a man and not a "ham," as customarily is the case with this puppet character of da Ponte's libretto.

On the distaff side there was also a high standard of singing. Eleanor Steber gave her difficult airs with noble emotion as well as vocal brilliancy, and was every inch the great and proud lady of Mozart's musical delineation.

Margaret Harshaw, much anticipated in the part of Donna Anna, has the voice, the temperament, the vocal and dramatic impact that the great role demands. These were properly characteristic of her performance, but her Mozart as yet-at least as last night-is not the complete and superbly dramatic achievement of her recent Wagnerian parts. But here, also, is a Donna Anna of a musical stature adequate to the score. And Miss Peters was a highly intelligent and pleasing Zerlina, with dramatic inconsistencies.

Mr. Rossi-Lemeni's Giovanni is a matter of fairly smooth under-statement. He sings it with a well-spun legato most of the time, and mainly with half voice. And he is less of a proud and distinguished nobleman, by far, than is necessary for the role. Lorenzo Alvary was an excellent Masetto, a part in which he seems to grow with each reappearance in it. His contribution was a welcome feature, particularly necessary under the circumstances.

But the staging is quite impossible, too clumsily arranged to be discussed in detail here, and nowhere more curious than in the strange circumstances of the Don's death, as the Statue appears high upon the rampart at the right, and the Don then falls half a story to a waiting elevator that takes hin the rest of the way down to Hell-all this under a blue midnight sky. The theatre was packed. for this occasion. There was much applause, especially for Miss Steber and Mr. Valletti.

Review of Ronald Eyer in Musical America

The production department stubbed its toe rather painfully in the new streamlined version of "Don Giovanni" given by the Metropolitan Opera on Dec. 10. The prompting spirit and objective were laudable, but the result fell considerably short of the ideal. Fortunately the musical performance was of a high order and the evening turned out to be a rewarding one despite the "mise en scène."

The musical news was made by a newcomer, Cesare Valletti, who made his debut in the dramatically negative, but musically very important, role of Don Ottavio. Mr. Valletti has brought to the Metropolitan roster one of the most beautifully schooled voices it has been my privilege to hear in a long time. It is a clean, clear lyric tenor-not of remarkable size or power as compared to our usual conception of an Italian operatic tenor, but expertly and effortlessly produced, perfectly placed and completely musical in a fluid, relaxed manner. In shaping a phrase, in taking and supporting a lovely tone and in negotiating delicate fioriture-as in the second-act aria "Il mio tesoro intanto," with its affinity for the high F-Mr. Valletti revealed genuine mastery over the vocal organ.

A Dashing Don

As the Don of the title, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni was a dashing figure, more devilish than noble, more effervescent than sedate. It has been fashionable for some time in this country to play the Don with dignity rather than exuberance; I am not sure but that the less lugubrious Italianate interpretation given by Mr. Rossi-Lemeni is not more effective theatrically, as well as more in keeping with the popular conception of Don Juan. A vocal peculiarity of Mr. Rossi-Lemeni's performance on this occasion, as mysterious as it was frustrating, was his almost constant use of mezza voce, particularly in the recitatives. This made for ease and lightness of execution but it hardly sufficed for Mozartean song.

Margaret Harshaw, as Donna Anna, and Eleanor Steber, as Donna Elvira, brought the weight of authority as well as opulent voices to the two principal feminine roles, and Roberta Peters was the charming, thrush-like Zerlina. Erich Kunz delighted the audience with his carefully prepared and deftly executed Leporello, in which he introduced certain contemporary comic techniques in an appropriate and inoffensive way. Masetto, a loutish, simple-minded character typical in eighteenth-century literature, but difficult to convey to modern audiences, was skillfully impersonated by Lorenzo Alvary, who could also bring into play the added advantage of a fine voice. Lubomir Vichegonov was impressive, both vocally and visually, as the Commendatore. Great credit for the essential musicality of the proceedings must go to Max Rudolf, whose conducting bespoke both knowledge and affection.

A praiseworthy attempt to combine economy with better continuity of performance led the management to devise a single set before which all of the rapidly shifting scenes of this opera could appropriately be played. The idea was a good one but its execution was not. One was constantly grateful for the unhindered flow of the music, which stopped only once for the intermission between the two acts. But one's credulity and imagination were stretched to the breaking point by the stage picture. It consisted of a long, elliptical ramp, umber-hued, rising circuitously from a house and entrance on one side to another entrance high in the wings on the other side. Behind it lay the sky and a panorama. Everything took place in, around, or upon this ramp, and every scene, so far as the eye was concerned, took place out of doors. Even the cemetery and the foreshortened monument of the Commendatore (without steed) materialized in a sort of Daliesque manner at the center of this arc, where the Don also subsequently spread his feast. To follow the action from scene to scene became something of an adventure, and spectators began to ask each other what they thought would happen in the next one. When Don Giovanni dies under the curse, he descends into Hades, appropriately, in an elevator behind the ramp.

I dislike to be severely critical of a new approach to repertory staging, as represented in this instance, because I believe everyone who has the interests of the opera house at heart fully appreciates the artistic as well as the financial considerations that motivate it. The present undertaking, however, was abortive and did not meet the challenge. One can only encourage the forward-seeking people at the Metropolitan to try again.

Photograph of Cesare Valletti as Don Ottavio by Sedge LeBlang.

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