Had fickle fate not intervened, the Met’s new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni would have been led by James Levine, and the titular rake would have been Mariusz Kwiecien. But with poor Levine languishing yet again on the injured list, the baton was passed to Fabio Luisi – now promoted to the rank of principal conductor. And with Kwiecien recovering from emergency surgery for a herniated disc, the protagonist became Peter Mattei, who took over gamely without so much as a stage rehearsal.
The results proved less than ideal. Luisi tended to stress momentum over reflection, with cast and orchestra not always keeping pace. He deserved credit for enforcing a few mini-cadenzas and occasional appoggiaturas, but stylistic consistency remained elusive. Ever heroic, Mattei did what he could under trying circumstances, moving with athletic nonchalance and singing with bluff bravado. Still, neither his monochromatic tone nor his ever-hearty demeanor suggested sensual magnetism.
Two members of the ensemble deserved the automatic bravos mustered by a clap-happy audience. Ramón Vargas demonstrated extraordinary elegance and poise as Don Ottavio, even conquering the treacherous scale passages of “Il mio tesoro” in a single breath. Luca Pisaroni ignored buffo clichés as Leporello, making the servant eminently serious, eminently sonorous and essentially clever.
The others had problems. The three heroines, though dramatically convincing, suffered from various degrees of stridency – Marina Rebeka introducing a screechy, inaccurate Anna, Barbara Frittoli a top-heavy, unreliable Elvira, and Mojca Erdmann a teeny-peep, oddly elegant Zerlina. Joshua Bloom contributed an OK if hyper-zealous Masetto, Stefan Kocan an OK if hardly fervent Commendatore.
The Met’s last Don Giovanni, a rather clumsy staging by Marthe Keller, opened in 2004 and lasted here for only 35 performances. Michael Grandage’s replacement version is tasteful, traditional, intelligently plotted and essentially unimaginative. Ben Wright’s dancerly routines create distracting counterpoint. Christopher Oram’s unit set, a symmetrical arena comprised of three-tiered facades, rolls around on cue (and recalls Carl Fillion’s design for Robert Lepage’s Damnation de Faust). At least it frames the inaction neatly.