When Ivo van Hove’s new manufacturing of “Don Giovanni” begins on the Metropolitan Opera, tendrils of smoke rise off the pavement onstage — as if hell is already simmering beneath, prepared to tug down the dissolute seducer of the title.
Despite the fact that his staging clothes centuries-old characters in modern garments and units them in a courtyard of recognizably fashionable (if eerily nameless) structure, it’s clear that van Hove believes in good old school damnation. He’s prepared to embrace, nevertheless austerely, the supernatural facet of this Mozart traditional, its surreal theatrical conventions.
Identified for his plain, harsh variations of performs like “A View From the Bridge” and “The Crucible,” van Hove doesn’t pressure right here to show all of the plot’s deceptions, maskings, misrecognitions and ghosts. If somebody says he’s another person, the opposite characters merely settle for that, even when he’s clearly nonetheless himself.
We’re in the actual world, the staging suggests, however we’re at all times suspending disbelief.
Having opened on the Met on Friday after originating in 2019 on the Paris Opera, van Hove’s work is easy, versatile and agile sufficient to stroll the tightrope of any profitable “Don Giovanni”: not stinting on the work’s darkness, depth and strangeness, on one hand — and, on the opposite, not snuffing out its wit, even silliness.
That’s simpler mentioned than completed, and “Giovanni” — lengthy, round, slippery — is likely one of the hardest assignments for an opera director, with makes an attempt tending to fall into both unremitting dreariness or irritating glibness. Three successive productions on the Met, launched in 1990, 2004 and 2011, didn’t win a lot love from critics or audiences.
The newest, directed by Michael Grandage, was particularly cluttered and fusty. In comparison with that, van Hove’s staging is, even with the ominous wisps of smoke hanging round, a breath of contemporary air, that includes a superb forged and performed with unexaggerated vitality by Nathalie Stutzmann.
The set, designed by Jan Versweyveld, surrounds a courtroom with looming concrete buildings that shift and rotate virtually imperceptibly, so as to by no means fairly get a deal with on the areas. The lonely facelessness of the facades evokes the work of de Chirico and Hopper; lurking staircases nod to the winding labyrinths of M.C. Escher; and a few arched openings recommend the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome, an emblem of Mussolini’s Fascist regime.
So this world is stark and unfriendly from the beginning — lit (additionally by Versweyveld) in varied shades and from varied angles, all chilly, and with costumes (by An D’Huys) as grey because the buildings.
However for all of the severity, the warmth of emotion pulses among the many lives of the troubled individuals onstage, who cling to one another one second earlier than pushing one another away the subsequent — embracing, then working.
That’s the modus operandi of Don Giovanni, the vaunted libertine whose homicide of the daddy of a girl he’s trying to rape units the plot in movement. Practically 60, the baritone Peter Mattei nonetheless seems to be and sounds strikingly youthful within the title function.
However there’s a way right here that Giovanni’s appetites, nevertheless infinite, have over time settled right into a sort of calm routine. This isn’t a harried, determined or raging tackle the character, and even, inversely, a very bored one, and the zestier moments, like “Fin ch’han dal vino” (the “Champagne Aria”), had been the one instances Mattei sounded uncomfortable on Friday.
These moments didn’t actually work dramatically, both, since his Giovanni isn’t zesty, however relatively fairly serene and matter-of-fact, largely sober however just a little wry, temperamentally grey — if nonetheless a practiced, persuasive romancer.
Within the character’s lengthy, tempting traces when he’s on the make, Mattei’s tone is buttery but ethereal, as irresistible because it was when he first sang this function on the Met 20 years in the past. His duets with the soprano Ying Fang, a fragile but horny Zerlina, her voice shiny however its edges softly rounded, slowed time virtually to hypnosis.
The soprano Federica Lombardi, a trendy Donna Anna, right here virtually as sensual a determine as Giovanni, lacked the grounded core to her tone that may add extra fullness and creaminess to it, however she made a penetrating, correct, typically thrilling sound, significantly in assured excessive notes. Pressed to however not past her limits in “Mi tradi,” the soprano Ana María Martínez was sympathetic with out lacking the ridiculousness within the pleading dignity of the hapless Donna Elvira, her voice warming by way of the efficiency.
Sounding sturdy as Leporello, Giovanni’s manservant, the bass-baritone Adam Plachetka was much less satisfying enjoying neutrality than was Mattei. Plachetka appeared to wish to be doing greater than van Hove gave him, and so took on an edgy restlessness that appeared unintentional.
Poised and passionate by way of all Mozart’s unforgiving writing for Don Ottavio, the tenor Ben Bliss added assertive ornaments within the repeated sections of his arias. It was a approach of giving his character some extra complexity than traditional, however got here off as odd as a result of such ornamentation was uncommon among the many remainder of the forged. The bass-baritone Alexander Tsymbalyuk was a suavely commanding Commendatore; the bass-baritone Alfred Walker, whereas plausibly aggrieved as Masetto, sounded light.
Stutzmann, the music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, is making a splashy Met debut with not one however two new Mozart stagings; Simon McBurney’s “Die Zauberflöte” opens Could 19.
The orchestra sounded polished for her, weighty with out being too heavy, the winds fantastically current within the textures from the overture on, the singers by no means lined. There was no sense of speeding as a lazy approach of conveying liveliness, however neither was the tenderness ever slowed down.
It is vitally good work, as is van Hove’s, even when his concepts don’t all fairly fly. References to Mozart’s time throughout the ball scene on the finish of Act I embody, oddly, a slew of cheap-looking masked, gowned mannequins within the home windows.
And Giovanni’s shift within the last scene — the dinner at which he prepares for a go to from the person he murdered — to pasta-flinging, bread-juggling, table-overturning mania appears to come back out of nowhere. If the purpose is that this break with the character we’ve come to know is sudden and anxious, it nonetheless doesn’t persuade.
However what arrives only a few minutes later does. For all of the manufacturing’s perennially smoky hints of hellfire, Giovanni’s finish comes amid a imaginative and prescient of the underworld, projected onto the set, that’s way more somber — and extra disturbing — than the standard weak flames.
Then the buildings rotate again into their unique positions, revealing sunlit, cheerful crops and billowing curtains the place there was previously simply implacable stone. The implication — supported by the perky music, if not the extra ambivalent textual content, sung as a finale by the surviving characters — is that eliminating the only unhealthy apple will let the backyard of society bloom.
The notion is reassuring, nevertheless implausible. Maybe van Hove, for all his grim austerity, is definitely an optimist at coronary heart.
By June 2 on the Metropolitan Opera, Manhattan; metopera.org.