[Met Performance] CID:176010
New production
Don Giovanni {185} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/31/1957.

(Debut: Karl Böhm
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
October 31, 1957
New production


DON GIOVANNI {185}
Mozart-Da Ponte

Don Giovanni............Cesare Siepi
Donna Anna..............Eleanor Steber
Don Ottavio.............Cesare Valletti
Donna Elvira............Lisa Della Casa
Leporello...............Fernando Corena
Zerlina.................Roberta Peters
Masetto.................Theodor Uppman
Commendatore............Giorgio Tozzi

Conductor...............Karl Böhm [Debut]

Director................Herbert Graf
Designer................Eugene Berman
Choreographer...........Zachary Solov

Don Giovanni received eleven performances this season.

Production a gift of the Metropolitan Opera National Council and Mrs. Albert Lasker

Review of Irving Kolodin in the Saturday Review of Literature

Three-B 'Don Giovanni"

Those who rate an opera house in terms of its Mozart - and what more demanding standard is there? - will have to assign the Metropolitan very close to the top of the list when it is doing its new "Don Giovanni." To distinguish it from all enterprises of the past, it may be termed the three-B "Don Giovanni," for Rudolf Bing who cast it, Eugene Berman who designed it, and Karl Boehm who made his debut conducting it. With or without alliteration, Herbert Graf's stage direction was an element of equal rank. Together with the finest cast in two decades at least, all were entitled to the operatic DSM - Distinguished Service to Mozart.

The basic consideration has to be the Berman production, for it will be on view as long as the Metropolitan is giving "Don Giovanni" in its present quarters, which may be for a while yet. After two viewings, at the dress rehearsal and first performance, one is still amazed at the scope of the imaginative conception and the skill with which it was executed. Sumptuously pictorial, frankly decorative in intent, it is almost as practical as it is colorful. Dignity, richness, and architectural mass make a frame for Mozart's music such as no current "festival" can provide.

Utilizing an interior proscenium and a raised platform to reduce the theatre's huge playing space, Berman has further contributed to intimacy with two columnar structures at either side. These are double-decked affairs, of which the lower, open portion can be used for entrances and exits, the upper story to simulate balconies or positions for the musicians in the ballroom scene, or closed off altogether by curtains. With negligible exceptions, there were only the briefest of waits between scenes, and only one - after the graveyard episode and prior to Donna Anna's "Non mi dir" - that could be called an interruption.

That one regrets even this silent interlude is the soundest compliment to the flow and integration of the score under Boehm's direction. He is not the most dynamic of contemporary Mozart conductors or the most eloquent the Metropolitan has had in recent years, but he is a first-class craftsman who knows what he wants and how to go about getting it. What he wanted, above all, was a balance in terms of the clarinets and oboes (the "loudest" instruments Mozart consistently uses in this score) which was superbly calculated to make the voices audible without strain. No attention is drawn to the scoring at the expense of the voices, but it is never disproportionately subdued. Some of his tempi are a mite too "comfortable" for the urgency of the music, but the difference between dress rehearsal and performance showed that Boehm is a man with theatrical mettle who can lead a performance as well as direct it.

It is also a compliment to his knowledge and thoroughness that every one of the performers surpassed previous accomplishments here in these parts (Theodor Uppman as Masetto and Giorgio Tozzi as Il Commendatore were new to the cast). First honors go to Eleanor Steber for a Donna Anna rarely equaled in the Ponselle-Bampton-Welitch-Milanov succession, attesting to the benefits derived from her Fiordiligi in "Cosi," the surcease of a year from the rigors of operatic performance which ended with this reappearance, and her own increasingly high standards. Spectacularly, she commands the power for "Or sai the l'onore," the finesse for the ensembles, and the florid flexibility for "Non mi dir" which marks her as a Mozart singer in a hundred.

As good balance requires, Cesare Siepi's Don was on an almost equally high plane of vocalism and dramatic purpose. He controls his throaty richness superbly for purposes of recitative or the quicksilver action of "Finch han' dal vino" or the Serenade, while reserving full power for the supper scene. Steady application to the dramatic problem, here and abroad, has given him the choreographic quality known as "ballon" and an almost indivisible identity with the character. When he has decided just how to play the serio-comic interlude with Leporello under Elvira's balcony - the laughs still come at inappropriate places - this will be a characterization to rank with the late Pinza's.

Next in order of difficulty among Mozart's inimitable gallery of individuals is Elvira, and the modern Metropolitan has not had a better one than Lisa della Casa. She is both vengeful and trusting, blending outraged womanhood with an unflinching conviction she can save Don Giovanni from his baser self. Her bright, pliant, finely controlled voice makes a fine foil for Steber's in their numerous scenes together, and she meets the need for bravura vocalism in "Mi tradi quell' alma ingrate" and "Ah fuggi il traditor" with thoroughbred musicianship.

For that matter, there was not a virtuoso requirement that was not delivered with spirit, musical sense, and vocal excellence, whether it was Fernando Corena's "Madamina," Roberta Peters's delightful singing of Zerlina's "Batti batti" or "Vedrai carino," Cesare Valletti's beautifully formed "Dalla sua pace" and "Il mio tesoro," or the briefer passages allotted to Masetto and the Commendatore.

All of these assets and advantages might have been diffused without the firmly-drawn ground plan laid out by Graf. His part in the general success might be slighted because his name has been associated with Metropolitan "Don Giovanni"s for twenty years, but this production shows a total sense of fitness reflecting an organized effort from start to finish. The ballroom scene suffers from the Don's generosity in inviting more guests than the space can accommodate, and the nasty problem of staging the Serenade without making the duplicity of Leporello and the Don ridiculous remains, but these are minor lapses in a major accomplishment. Nobody with a proper regard for the well-being of his eyes as well as his ears will want to miss this "Don Giovanni" while it is paint fresh and personality free.



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