Today was the first MetHD broadcast of the season and we got Bartlett Sher’s new production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. It’s what I would call a “steakhouse production”. It’s like a meal in a top end steakhouse. Your steak is a fine piece of meat, they don’t mess it up and ditto your baked potato. And it’s all served in luxurious surroundings with attentive service. It’s a terrific steak dinner but it costs the same as the tasting menu at a place with two Michelin stars and it’s still just a steak dinner.
So, a brilliant cast; Netrebko, Polenzani, Kwiecien and Maestri, singing and acting up a storm in a production that was pretty much devoid of ideas beyond a few odd costuming choices. Since when did Italian peasant girls get to dress like they are attending a ball in a Jane Austen novel? Still the girl singing Nanetta was cute and had the best dress. Gary Halvorson’s video direction was about par for the course in terms of virtually incessant close-ups. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon but ultimately forgettable.
Perhaps the best bit of today’s Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast of Don Giovanni was Renée Fleming’s interval interview with Mariusz Kwiecien. As best I recall it went:
RF: What do you like best about this production?
MK: There’s nothing new in it so we get to do what we always do.
And that is very much the truth. British Wunderkind Michael Grandage gave us a production that I thought averagely dull for the Met until the interval and worse afterwards. The set consists basically of an “advent calendar” (I owe this brilliant terminology to Zerbinetta at Likely Impossibilities) of shuttered cells in “collapsed barn” brown and grey. For once I was grateful for a virtually continuous sequence of close ups which meant I didn’t need to look at the set. Costumes are traditional and blocking is pretty ordinary. The only point where there seems to be much of a directorial idea is in the final scene where Grandage goes McVicar on us. Don Giovanni is carousing with about ten cheap prostitutes though, it being the Met, they keep more of their clothes on than the average whore. It makes no sense. He’s an indiscriminate womaniser but there’s no suggestion that he has to buy his pleasures. We also get the advent calendar populated by statues of monks and some pretty ordinary pyrotechnics. It doesn’t work.
The production is a shame because the singing is consistently good and some of the acting is very decent. The star is Luca Pisaroni’s Leporello. He’s excellent all round. I also like Mojca Erdmann’s Zerlina which, I think is a bit less sappy than some I’ve seen. She definitely tops from the bottom in Batti, batti. Joshua Bloom’s Masetto is pretty good too helped by the fact that he isn’t twice as big as Kwiecien as so many Masettos seem to be.
No complaints about the conducting (Fabio Luisi) or orchestral playing though it’s a heavier sound than I prefer for Mozart but that’s what you get in a big house.