Class tensions simmer in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” The philandering protagonist may make no distinction in the women he hunts, but with the men who help or hinder his efforts — his servant Leporello and the peasant Masetto, whose bride, Zerlina, seems so delectable — he wields aristocratic clout like a club.
Social mobility? Psh. Only someone as naïve as Zerlina could fall for that.
For the cast, though, it’s a different story. With the exception of the noble but impotent Don Ottavio, a tenor part, the male roles all call for low voices that are potentially interchangeable. That’s how, last week at the Metropolitan Opera, the Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni came to make his role debut as Don Giovanni in the same drab 2011 production by Michael Grandage, in which he has previously sung Leporello. Years earlier, in Salzburg, Mr. Pisaroni was Masetto.
Meanwhile the Met’s current Leporello, the Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov, has starred here before as the Don. That made the serenade scene in Act II, in which master and servant swap clothes, deliciously meta. Or so I told myself on Saturday, straining to find anything of interest in this leathery take on Mozart’s dark masterpiece.
Vocally, both men fit their roles well. Mr. Pisaroni sounded muscular and suave in the title role, though his Don Giovanni felt more like a frat boy than a shape-shifting object of fascination. Mr. Abdrazakov’s hearty gruffness suited his part, and his earthy comic acting was effective.
Watching the two singers trade places, I wondered whether Leporello was not the more desirable role. When he originated the role of Don Giovanni in 1787, Luigi Bassi (described by contemporaries as a “most beautiful but utterly stupid” singer) complained that the protagonist never gets a real aria. Leporello’s million-words-a-minute catalog aria, meanwhile, is a showstopper.
With the German conductor Cornelius Meister at the helm, though, many of the rapid-fire numbers that carry the buffo weight in this tragicomedy rattled more than they hummed. The frequent coordination problems might have been a fluke, but Mr. Meister also imposed ill-advised tempos including a wet-blanket andante in “Là ci darem la mano” that all but suffocated this tender duet between Don Giovanni and Zerlina.
As Zerlina, the Russian soprano Aida Garifullina made her house debut with an interestingly copper-hued, stiletto-sharp voice that didn’t quite fit this ingénue role. Another new face is the Italian soprano Federica Lombardi who sang the part of Donna Elvira. With an acidic brightness in her top notes she held her own well in ensemble numbers, but in the aria “Ah! Chi mi dice mai” her low register lacked the necessary power to make the music’s stark fluctuations psychologically telling.
Power wasn’t an issue for the soprano Rachel Willis-Sorensen as Donna Anna, but the glassy hardness of her tone may be an acquired taste. As her onstage partner the French tenor Stanislas de Barbeyrac was another Met newcomer. Endowed with an ample, vigorous voice and a knack for expansive legato lines, he may mature into a tenor to watch. On Saturday, he tended to overwhelm his arias with finicky changes in dynamics.
Rounding out the cast were the bass Stefan Kocan, stentorian and plush as the Commendatore, and the bass-baritone Brandon Cedel, suave and alert as Masetto. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s begun to size up the other roles in this opera.
Through April 18 at the Metropolitan Opera, Manhattan; 212-362-6000, metopera.org.
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