[Met Performance] CID:299770
New Production
Don Giovanni {388} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/22/1990.

(Debut: Karita Mattila

Metropolitan Opera House
March 22, 1990
New Production

Mozart-Da Ponte

Don Giovanni............Samuel Ramey
Donna Anna..............Carol Vaness
Don Ottavio.............Jerry Hadley
Donna Elvira............Karita Mattila [Debut]
Leporello...............Ferruccio Furlanetto
Zerlina.................Dawn Upshaw
Masetto.................Julien Robbins
Commendatore............Kurt Moll

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Franco Zeffirelli
Set designer............Franco Zeffirelli
Costume designer........Anna Anni
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler
Choreographer...........Norbert Vesak

Don Giovanni received nine performances this season.

Production a gift of Mrs. Donald D. Harrington

Review from an unidentified music magazine

Metropolitan Opera: Mozart "Don Giovanni"

It has been said of some authors that toil can tell whose books they have been reading when they conceived certain of their own works. One possible explanation of Franco Zeffirelli's treatment of the final scenes of the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "Don Giovanni" is that he had just come off watching a string of George Lucas movies

In the graveyard scene, Giovanni and Leporello are surrounded by tombs and sepulchers adorned with a host of otherworldly creatures, including a representation of the Grim Reaper himself, that are grotesque but too patently bogus to be chilling. And in the climactic moments of the fatal supper, the Conmendatore's living effigy advances on Giovanni while, at stage rear, the statue seen in the graveyard towers over all, his eyes flashing orange like those of a dime-store battery-powered Frankenstein. Worse yet, he drags Giovanni to perdition with the help of a swarm of vaguely disagreeable-looking hobgoblins that would be hard put to frighten a ten-year-old.

It is hardly news that Zeffirelli, to whom the Met entrusted both the production and the set design of its first restaging of the opera in three decades, works in equal parts of gigantism and literalism; the Maurice Sendak strain, however, is something new. Elsewhere the familiar Zeffirelli is on view: he has raided the 19th century, magpie-like, for a Fragonard skyscape here, some elaborate grillwork there, massive pillars, a formal garden, what have you. His unsparing hand seems determined to confine the old adage and persuade us that more is always really more But it is one thing to smother a thin diversion like "Turandot," it is quite another to sap the stark drive and fervid energy of "Don Giovanni" with a welter of silks and brocades, bonnets and pantaloons, leather and velvet capes, candelabra, fluted columns, paneled walls, gilt, garlands, ruffles and laces and shoes with silver buckles. Another aspect of the production serves to weaken its impact: it often spreads into the recesses of the Met's huge stage, compromising the singer's projection.

The decorative hyperbole of Zeffirelli the designer is matched by an analogous absence of discipline on the part of Zeffirelli the director. Throughout, the players move about the stage ceaselessly and pointlessly, substituting activity for action. Take a single example: Elvira roams around, fiddling constantly with her shawl during Leporello's catalog aria, reacting over and over again in an almost identical way to Giovanni's libidinousness. Contrast this with a simple expedient recalled from a production long ago. Elvira exits before the end of the aria, leaving Leporello to recount his master's conquests to thin air. The device is both a credible reaction by Elvira to the distressing and repetitious revelations and an underscoring of the almost solipsistic nature of Giovanni's pursuits. That is stagecraft: what Zeffirelli offers is staginess.

Powerfully done, the music of "Don Giovanni" can redeem a presentation far more cumbersome than this one. But here musical results too were mixed. The orchestral playing had many virtues, including some splendid wind passages but was sometimes ragged and out of phase with the vocalists. Conductor James Levine must have wanted a weighty and portentous sound from the pit and often got it as in the strong overture. Bur elsewhere the music's impact was blunted by tempos that were marginally too slow. In the first act, Elvira's aria "Ah, fuggi il traditor" and the quartet "Non ti fidar" suffered so: to the second act Giovanni's aria "Meta di voi" did likewise, as did the quartet "Ferma briccone" - but at "Mille torbidi pensieri" in the quintet Levine accelerated to a pace that the singers could not manage. The conductor's textual views proved conventional: outside the recitative, appoggiaturas were rarely heard, and other kinds of embellishment, not at all.

Samuel Ramey is a Giovanni celebrated worldwide, and he fills the bill in many ways. His voice encompasses the role nicely, though when the tessitura is high, as in the second act Serenade, it can become hooty in sound and a bit unsteady. Where many another Giovanni has stumbled - most notably in the champagne aria - he rose to the occasion admirably. Still, hampered as he was by Zeffirelli's pedestrian direction, he rarely conveyed the magnetism or menace of the best Giovanni.

As Leporello, Ferruccio Furlanetto provided the evening's best vocal performance and most vivid characterization. He was funny but never silly, and his solid forward delivery got a lot of the text's bite across. Later in the production's spring run, he and Ramey took a cue from Da Ponte's libretto and switched roles, and a sampling of the broadcast suggested that Furlanetto's sharper and more characterful way with words imparted more energy to the opera's central figure. In the recitative, however, the contrast was less striking. Backed by excellent continuo playing - Daniel Beckwith on harpsichord, Jerry Grossman on cello, and Laurence Glazener on bass - both made the recitative count dramatically. Jerry Hadley sang Don Ottavio's two charming arias fluently, but did little to divest this role of its fatal theatric flabbiness. Philip Cokorinos was a decent, unexceptional Masetto, and Kurt Moll sang sonorously as the Commendatore.

The feminine side of the roster did not surmount the production's obstacles even that well. It is facile to call Carol Vaness's voice too small for the role of Donna Anna: other singers have made a strong impression with similar resources. Hers was accomplished singing, agile and secure, rising in the demanding moments with something to spare. But this role begs for light and shade, for suggestions of vulnerability and ambiguity in what is otherwise a monochrome portrait. These Vaness did not supply.

As Elvira, the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila made her Metropolitan debut. She showed a pleasing, if not very distinctive, voice with a tenuous lower range and a somewhat fragile top and a hitch in vocal attack that could hinder thrust and forward motion. She is a handsome woman with good vocal and dramatic instincts, and might be heard to better advantage in a more lyrical role. Dawn Upshaw's Zerlina was a disappointment: prettily sung, it was oddly lacking in dramatic lilt coming from a young American soprano who has made her mark.

Photograph of Karita Mattila as Donna Elvira and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Leporello by Winnie Klotz/Metropolitan Opera.

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