The Metropolitan Opera’s current production of "Don Giovanni," first presented last year, has not had many lovers.
But it’s a little like the girl who wears glasses in high school. Brushed up here and there, it could be awfully pretty. The flaws are real but not great.
The problems are an accumulation of small things.
One of the most curious of these appears in the scene in the second act in which Don Giovanni serenades Donna Elvira’s maid while playing a mandolin. For some reason in this version, the Don (Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov) doesn’t carry one. Likewise, throughout the production the lighting, credited to Paule Constable, is flat and diffuse, and British import conductor Edward Gardner’s handling of the orchestra is frequently slow.
Nor does the production feature a perfect cast. Its Zerlina (Ekaterina Siurina) has a very small voice, and its charismatic, big-voiced Don may go too far initially in the direction of playing the hero as a blackguard.
But the production’s strengths are undeniable.
Foremost among these is its imaginative multi-tiered sets and elegant period costumes. Both of these are the work of Christopher Oram.
Composed of a series of gray stucco windowed rooms piled on top of one another in a receding horseshoe shaped design, these sets are highly functional: without difficulty or loss of time, they separate to create an effective circular courtyard space, an improvised ballroom in the Don’s palace, a Spanish street, an alleyway and the façade of a townhouse.
In addition, they work to limit the stage’s enormous playing space, focusing the audience’s attention on the downstage performers.
Oram’s costumes, meantime, are handsome and apposite without being unduly showy or distracting.
Best of all are the production’s special effects, deployed at the end for the Don’s descent into hell. The living statue of the Commendatore (Raymond Aceto) is an inspired piece of giant machinery, and the flames that leap up on stage are so sharp and powerful that you can actually feel their heat twenty rows back in the audience.
Nor is Abdrazakov the only performer in this production who can sing or act. Almost stealing the show is the refined tenor Charles Castronovo in the supporting part of Donna Anna’s sad-sack boyfriend Don Ottavio; while Erwin Schrott, as the put-upon manservant Leporello, is excellent as an actor and skilled in alternately mocking and mimicking the vocal inflections of his master.
Is this a production that triumphs utterly, seducing every women (and man) in the audience with perfect ease and undaunted grace? Hardly. But, when the music is this incomparably great, such a production can make you more than a little bit fond.