Don Giovanni is an opera which has as its title character a man who is an unrepentant womaniser, who ultimately receives his just reward in one of the most famous scenes in opera where he is consumed into the fires of hell. When the opera arrives full circle at its conclusion, the Commendatore is finally able to exact revenge on Don Giovanni, not only for his own murder at the beginning of opera, but also for the thousands of women who Don Giovanni has wronged and betrayed during his promiscuous lifetime.  

Amanda Majeski (Donna Elvira) and Ildar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni) © Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera
Amanda Majeski (Donna Elvira) and Ildar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni)
© Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera

The Met’s latest production is a revival of Michael Grandage’s 2011 staging, which communicates the heady subject matter with directness and simplicity. It essentially consists of a single set design, a three-storey facade of balconies across the stage, which open up and assume different purposes during the various scenes. During Leporello's famous Catalogue Aria, the various balconies were filled with women, supposedly to give some impression of the extent of the number of women seduced by Don Giovanni. This same set design effectively changes into a graveyard in the second act, the balconies populated by grey statues, perhaps portraying all the betrayed women looking down with vengeance on the Don. The central statue, much greater in proportion to all the others, represents the Commendatore, and menacingly moves its head and arm. It is a minimalist set, with characters in period costumes, but one which is highly effective in communicating the various themes of the opera, while also linking them together at the same time. 

Paul Appleby (Don Ottavio), Malin Byström (Donna Anna) and Ildar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni) © Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera
Paul Appleby (Don Ottavio), Malin Byström (Donna Anna) and Ildar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni)
© Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera

The Commendatore, played by Kwangchul Youn, was particularly chilling in his delivery in what was a particularly strong male cast. His voice was declamatory and resonant, his solemn warnings were enough to send shivers down your spine, which reached their fulfilment in a blaze of fire effects when Don Giovanni was finally consumed into hell in flashes of light which were almost blinding to the audience. Ildar Abdrazakov, playing Don Giovanni, was extremely impressive and brought out the complex nature of the title character, varying his tonal colour accordingly. Particularly memorable was the part in Act II when he was attempting to persuade Donna Elvira of his renewed fidelity. His authoritative rich tone on the one hand contrasted with his desperate pleading as his plight worsened. The partnership with Matthew Rose's Don Leporello was a very pleasing combination. His famous Catalogue Aria was delivered in a light hearted, sometimes off-the-voice way as he told of the unbelievable number of Don Giovanni’s conquests. Leporello is a character who can really bring the opera to life, and Rose delivered a very strong vocal performance and brought much humour to the role, particularly when he disguised his self as Don Giovanni. This playfulness then later transformed to a cowardice when he is discovered and is quick to disown his master. 

The stand-out aria of the night was Don Ottavio’s “Della sua pace”, given a beautiful rendition by Paul Appleby. He took this at a slower tempo than usual and delivered it with a huge dynamic range. The recapitulation was delivered at a dynamic which was only just audible. Its effect was one of great intensity, which seemed to draw in and transfix the capacity audience. The Met Orchestra, which performed with aplomb throughout the evening under Fabio Luisi, even seemed surprised, as they took a moment to adjust to this extraordinary performance.  

Ildar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni) and Nadine Sierra (Zerlina) © Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera
Ildar Abdrazakov (Don Giovanni) and Nadine Sierra (Zerlina)
© Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera
Adam Plachetka and Nadine Sierra combined well as Masetto and Zerlina, portraying the couple with innocence, almost as if they represented a model couple in contrast to the betrayal occurring around them. Their joviality was almost comic by contrast as they unhesitatingly leapt into each other’s arms, particularly when compared to the tortured character of Donna Elvira, played by Amanda Majeski, as she becomes unhinged by Don Giovanni’s renewed advances. Vocally she was strong, but I would have liked to have seen a little more neuroticism and passion in her character, particularly when she becomes more mentally tortured. Malin Byström completed the female cast, portraying a grieving Donna Anna with seriousness, almost with a slight aggression to her voice, her desire for revenge permeating the opera.

This was a production that gave the cast nowhere to hide through the simplicity of the staging, allowing the strength of the singers and their characters to shine through, communicating Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s enduing masterpiece with a welcome faithfulness and directness.