Metropolitan Opera Review: Don Giovanni 2022-23
Updated: May 9
By Alkis Karmpaliotis
High School Student, NYC
Founder of AppreciateOpera.org
On May 5, the Metropolitan Opera opened its long-anticipated new production of Mozart's masterpiece, Don Giovanni, to a jam-packed house. Ivo van Hove's quasi-modern staging was set to open two seasons ago in 2021, but, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company had no choice but to postpone the premiere. With an audience eager for a great Met performance, expectations were high for this rendition of Don Giovanni.
Dozens of composers, playwrights, and authors have attempted to tackle the Don Juan myth in a unique way, from Lord Byron's epic satire to Richard Strauss's dynamic orchestral tone poem of the same name. Mozart's retelling of the tale is rather lighthearted; in fact, Mozart originally cataloged it as an "opera buffa." Lorenzo da Ponte's masterful libretto oscillates between drama and comedy, beginning with an explosive duel in which Don Giovanni murders one of his victims' father, interrupted by a hilarious recitative in which his terrified sidekick, Leporello, asks, "who is dead - you or the old man?"
Ivo van Hove's production presents the tale from a brand new perspective. The minimalistic production, which contains only a single set piece, allowed for a lot of freedom and movement from the actors, especially from Don Giovanni and Masetto, giving the opera a youthful and energetic touch. However, the staging felt a bit dull at times, especially towards the end of the first act at Don Giovanni's party, when stage assistants carried mannequins in dresses onto the stage to mimic guests. While this fit with the production's minimalistic approach, I felt as though it took the audience out of the drama. Even if it was only for a brief moment, it all but ruined the finale of the act. Let's be honest: no one wants to see stagehands walking onto the set during such a climactic scene.
Van Hove's production did, however, did offer a unique take to the opera, emphasizing the toxicity of the male characters besides Don Giovanni himself. Don Ottavio's incessant pressure on Donna Anna to marry came off as problematic from the start, while Masetto's jealousy issues and Leporello's hypocrisy were points of emphasis throughout the night. This minor, intricate aspect of the direction did a wonderful job of bringing light to the nature of toxic masculinity in society.
Peter Mattei has been one of the world's best baritones - and one of the best Don Giovannis - throughout the last decade. His honeyed tone and emphatic stage presence were on full display throughout Friday's performance. His powerful timbre came out most strongly during the thrillingly fast-paced aria, "Fin ch'han dal vino," but my favorite moment in the opera was the melodious serenade, "Deh, vieni alla finestra," which Mattei sang gorgeously.
The other half of the opera's main duo was the wonderful bass-baritone, Adam Plachetka. Plachetka was most impressive in the second act, when he had to impersonate Don Giovanni, although his act one showstopper, "Madamina, il catalogo è questo," was just as magnificent.
The duo of Mattei and Plachetka brought life to a largely lethargic production. If you're conflicted as to whether you should get tickets or not - go for it, even if only for the sake of seeing these two Mozartian masters at work.
Mattei and Plachetka were joined by a supporting cast of several wonderful Mozartian singers. Italian soprano, Federica Lombardi, was magnificent as the passionate Donna Anna, most notably in the famous act one duet with Don Ottavio, in which she cried out the words, "Fuggi, crudele, fuggi," with convincing agony. Her partner, Don Ottavio, was sung masterfully by Ben Bliss, an experienced tenor who has sung several leading Mozart roles including Ferrando in Così fan tutte. His act one aria, "Il mio tesoro," was an unexpected highlight of the night.
Alfred Walker brought a dark and angry interpretation to the role of Masetto, especially in the powerful aria, "Ho capito, signor," which he performed aggressively both from a vocal and theatrical standpoint. Alongside Walker, the up-and-coming soprano, Ying Fang, made for a spectacular Zerlina. Her interactions with Masetto were playful, and her acting ability was evident as she displayed wonderful chemistry with her onstage partner. Her vocals were on point all night, especially in the famous duet, "La ci darem la mano."
Ana Maria Martinez brought a lot of comedy to the role of Donna Elvira, a character so obsessed with Don Giovanni that she consistently returns to him despite his repeated betrayals. She was particularly wonderful in the penultimate scene of the opera, when she stormed into Don Giovanni's house for what seemed like the thousandth time to once again try to persuade him to change his ways. She was also lovely in the often-omitted D major finale following Don Giovanni's death, in which she hilariously announced that she would withdraw herself from society and join a convent.
Alexander Tsymbalyuk rounded out a wonderful cast with his booming portrayal of the fierce Commendatore, delivering the infamous line, "Don Giovanni, a cenar teco m'invitasti," with imposing force.
Maestro Nathalie Stutzmann, who made her Met debut on Friday, led a solid performance in the pit. The magnificent Met orchestra was controlled and the opera was largely well-paced, although, at times, her tempi felt a bit rushed. For example, the opening section "Notte e giorno faticar" and the aria "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" were a bit too fast for my taste, and did not allow for Plachetka to display the full power of his beautiful voice.
Outside of this minor critique - which is, of course, completely subjective - I can say with confidence that this Don Giovanni will satisfy whoever goes to see it.
Should you see it?
Absolutely! It offers a fresh take on one of opera's most popular and commonly performed works.
I'm Alkis Karmpaliotis and I'm 16 years old. Thanks for reading my article! I founded Appreciate Opera in 2019, and you can support my work by reading my articles and interviews and subscribing.