Live Broadcast from The Met, Saturday 29th October, 2011-10-30
The astronomical cost of a ticket to live opera is just one of the reasons most people don’t go. This new initiative of broadcast plays and operas around the world, live or “as live”, is a wonderful opportunity to see some of the greatest works of art and world class performers, for a fraction of the cost, (roughly what you’d shell out for a 3-D movie of dubious quality and a pair of the snazzy specs that come with it).
The Metropolitan Opera in New York are currently staging Mozart’s finest (in my view THE finest opera ever written) and it is a cracking production. I have seen several stagings of Don Giovanni, some of them symbolic, some of them translated to different eras, but this one, in the costumes of the period on a simple staging of walls, doors and balconies, is one of the greatest. The splendid singers are all top drawer, and Michael Grandage’s direction places emphasis on characterisation as much as on the action. The humour of Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto survives the translation into subtitles and the drama of Mozart’s magnificent score is unassailable. That I had shivers throughout the evening was nothing to do with the air-conditioning.
Ramon Vargas brings something rarely seen in a Don Ottavio: impatience and frustration. There is a lovely moment right at the end, when Donna Anna tells him he must wait one more year before they can be married, and he turns from her with a look of comical exasperation that is just delicious. This is the beauty of a cinematic presentation – you get close-ups the people in the expensive seats do not. Marina Rebeka’s Donna Anna is both striking and sympathetic while Barbara Frittoli as Giovanni’s abandoned wife displays tenderness and helplessness in the face of her addiction to the man who done her wrong. Luca Pisaroni’s Leporello always has a twinkle in his eye – his growing unease with his master’s carryings-on is coupled with his undeniable devotion to the man.
As it should be, my heart was won by Don Giovanni himself. Mariusz Kwiecien has something of a young Kurt Russell about him. Clad in frockcoats and flouncy white shirts, he swaggers around the stage enjoying himself. As the philandering Don, he can ‘turn on’ the charm. His voice goes into turbo-charge for his seductive arias. This is a man who knows what he is doing and is in full control of his talent for womanising. Life is to be enjoyed and he enjoys it to the max. When he is dragged into Hell, in a beautifully realised scene with a blue-faced Commendatore, he remains unrepentant. With him gone, the rest of the characters have to grasp around for their next move: a deferred marriage, the taking of holy orders, the search for a new boss… It is as though Don Giovanni gave their lives purpose. Without him, there is only anticlimax.