Returning to the Met’s Live in HD series is a moving production of Don Giovanni.  Part of the charm of Live in HD is gathering at a large cinema to see opera transfer to the screen.  Unlike longer operas, Mozart’s Don Giovanni feels like a whirling Two Act, with love, despair, and extraordinary descent into fire.

On the expansive stage of The Metropolitan Opera, Production by Michael Grandage exploits the width and the height of the playing area.  The opera seems unfathomably large.  For devotees of stage musicals, theater is exposed and revealed with exceptional acting.  Against a large wall are the portals to a greater world.  Moments of confrontation are scenic and filled with metaphor.  In Mozart’s complicated opera, it’s a dominant world where female and male forces are confident,  and yet, disparagingly at odds.

Live in HD Director Matthew Diamond, keeps the flow moving from stage to screen.  Conversations with Host Joyce Didonato are fast-paced.  Early years at the Met are recounted by performers who saw the Met’s move from 39th Street to Lincoln Center.  Off-stage, singers playing Don Giovanni and supporting roles discuss their characters and the history of the play.

 

A scene from the Met's new production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni." Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera Taken during the rehearsal on October 4, 2011 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

A scene from the Met’s new production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Taken during the rehearsal on October 4, 2011 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

 

Don Giovanni received its world premiere in Prague in 1787.  Seen with a Live in HD audience at the cinema, the two shots and solo arias are like portraits on a card.  It’s a vibrant production, faithful to the values of the liberty of the 1700s.

Act I features the plight of Donna Anna, suffering over the death of her father.  In a black dress, she is the striking image of a woman searching for justice.  After asking Don Ottavio for his wit and skill, the opera focuses on Masetto and Zerlina, a perfect pair.  With costumes that are slightly less ornate, they appear like they are out of the cast of Les Miserables.  Beaten down and taken by the broader society, Zerlina is swayed by the forceful Don Giovanni.  Don Giovanni is a traveled man with a vigorous personal life (that includes bedding over 1,003 in Spain alone).  He invites the guests – underclass and elite – to a masked ball.  Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Don Ottavio confront Don Giovanni, and hold him to his action.

Each recitative is thoughtful and illustrative.  An allegiance between Anna, Ottavio, Zerlina, and Masetto grows in Act II.  Leporello, Don Giovanni’s servant, acts as a mediator.  Finally, in one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s most memorable scenes, Giovanni confronts the statue of The Commendatore, played by Kwangchul Youn.  Giovanni eventually winds up in hell, encompassed by flames.

The dramatic world of Spain, choreographed by Ben Wright, is revelatory.  Stand out performances are from Adam Plachetka, as Leporello.  A servant to Don Giovanni, he has all of the charm and suave appeal.  Simon Keenlyside approaches Don Giovanni as a true swashbuckler, with a sword and extraordinary gait.  A man with a little conscience, his appetite for women finally meets up with him.

Don Giovanni’s descent to the underworld is an absolute knockout.  Clearing the table of the food and the women that have always surrounded him, Don Giovanni explodes in rage.  With flames encompassing him (created by extraordinary flash tech), he descends into the hell of his own making.

 

Live in HD continues in 72 countries this Season, with screenings of Roméo et Juliette, La Traviata, and Der Rosenkavalier.  Here’s a video:

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