This production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni has strong acting and immaculate singing, together with a set and costumes that are at once traditional and uninspired. This is surprising, because director Michael Grandage came to the Met after really thriving in London at the minuscule Donmar Warehouse as a thoughtful innovator. Perhaps the vastness of the New York venue was responsible for such faint-heartedness, or perhaps he did not have the creative freedom he needed on this occasion. Whatever the case, the staging could be described as safe but intelligent, because the interactions between the characters are particularly well-studied, especially those between Giovanni and his sidekick Leporello. 

Mr Grandage was obviously well aware that this work was listed by the composer as opera buffa, though he could have put more emphasis on the comic aspects. There is only a hint of Jeeves and Wooster in the pair’s portrayals: they are of their period, along with the wigs and tricorn hats, but the class tensions between the arrogant aristocrat and the cheeky servant are nicely brought out.

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Mariusz Kwieczien is a dashing Errol Flynn of a Don, gambolling about with the confidence of one who has played the role many times. His pretty little duet with Zerlina – “Là ci darem la mano” – is very effective in establishing his capacity for seductive charm, and his “Fin ch’han dal vino” is sung with an exciting flourish. “Deh vieni alla finestra”, his serenade to the maid on the balcony, is beautifully nuanced, and he is filled with the right kind of frantic urgency in the scene just before the end when he defies the Commendatore (a wonderfully rich, dark sound from Stefan Kocán) and disappears through the stage surrounded by smoke and alarmingly real flames. Luca Pisaroni is superb as Leporello. He has a comedian’s sense of timing, and his acting is as agile as his voice: he is perfect for bringing out the love–hate relationship with his master. He excels in the catalogue song, writhing and posing, as behind him, the conquests he is singing about appear in windows on three balconied tiers of the set. The same tiers are employed for the graveyard scene, with the women replaced by rather predictably gray-hooded figures who freeze until the time comes to move, as if they are clients in a hotel for ghosts. However, this spooky atmosphere is still somewhat conventional.

Barbara Frittoli’s Donna Elvira sips something stimulating from a little flask right at the beginning, but her diction is in no way impaired. She is splendid throughout, particularly in the trio “Ah taci, ingiusto core!” when Leporello and the Don are engaged in comic business, and when in strident warning mode, as in “Non ti fidar, o misera”. Making her Met debut, Marina Rebeka holds back when necessary from full force, but is strikingly bold at times and very memorable when she is addressing her beloved fiancé in a moving “Non mi dir, bell’idol mio” which conveys passion in a way seldom achieved, with entrancing coloratura and subtle use of piano. Also making her Met debut is Mojca Erdmann as Zerlina, who is clear and pure in her voice, but credibly erotic, when she teases Masetto with her apparent taste for domestic violence in “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto!” and in the suggestive “Vedrai, carino”.  

Winning much justifiable applause is Ramón Vargas as Don Ottavio, whose two key arias “Dalla sua pace” and “Il mio tesoro infanto” fall into the category of immaculate, sung with great sweetness and feeling. The Met Orchestra must be one of the most refined and best-rehearsed in the world, and conductor Fabio Luisi allows them to prove that fact once more, while contributing his own skills as a nifty harpsichordist.