Don Giovanni

Some friends and I went to see the the Met's broadcast of Mozart's Don Giovanni this month. Although I like all kinds of music, I'm only just getting around to exploring opera. This was the first time I'd seen or heard this one from start to finish and, while I enjoyed it tremendously, several things surprised me.

For one thing, broadcasting these productions to be seen on a movie screen puts much more emphasis on the acting; it's not enough to just have a gorgeous voice. Luckily all but one of the main characters had the acting skills as well as the voice. And not just the grandiose gestures that work from the stage, but also the subtle, sidelong glances, the quick, secretive smiles. It must have been a challenge for everyone on stage to put together a performance that would work for both the live audience in the Met and the enthusiasts packing the movie theatres.

I especially liked the interplay between Don Giovanni and his servant, Leporello. Apparently Mariusz Kwiecien and Luca Pisaroni have played this duo many times. It was fun to watch the shifts in the relationship as Leporello explored how far he could go, alternately criticising and imitating his master. Kwiecien's Don Giovanni displayed the expected arrogance but surprised me by being not only handsome but also elegant and aristocratic. However, I found myself wanting to shake the silly girls for falling for his lines.

No, it was Ramón Vargas as Don Ottavio who stole my heart with his heart-felt aria, Dalla sua pace:

On her peace of mind depends mine too,

what pleases her gives life to me,

what grieves her wounds me to the heart.

If she sighs, I sigh with her;

her anger and her sorrow are mine,

and joy I cannot know unless she share it.

Such devotion might drive me crazy, but I'll take a man who calls me his treasure over one for whom I'm just another notch on his belt. Generosity in love is not to be scorned. I loved the dignity Vargas brought to a role that is often played as a buffoon.

Of course the much-retold story of the famous lover is a man's fantasy: women swooning over him, lining up to be his next conquest, begging him to come back even after he betrays them. The dinner scene at the end was particularly well done, with food and women jostling for room on the table, a feast for the libertine. I was a little taken aback at the servant Zerlina (beautifully performed by Mojca Erdmann) begging her fiancé to beat her. I understand that she was wooing her man back after she'd been flirting too brazenly with Giovanni, and that she was confident her fiancé would not actually do so, but it was an unpleasant reminder of the ugliness underneath the music. And of how times have changed since the libretto was written.

I liked the set a lot: the facade of a Venetian house which separated for large, well-lit scenes such as the wedding festivities and dinner scene. The director used it in interesting ways, delineating inside and outside, enabling characters to overhear each other or hide as necessary.

Altogether a delightful experience.

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