by Steven Pisano
In Michael Grandage's production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni now playing at the Metropolitan Opera, the snarling balls of flame that rocket up from the stage as the unrepentant title character is dragged down writhing and screaming into the bowels of Hell are so blisteringly hot that I felt the heat sear my face at the back of the Grand Tier.
At first, you think: The cad got what he deserved. He’s not a nice guy. But then, you almost immediately have second thoughts. Oh, is he charming! Oh, is he suave! You hate him, but you love him too. And the fact that you love such a reprehensible rogue can make your stomach a little queasy. But be honest: You’re also sort of going to miss the guy. He is so entertaining!
It’s sticky moral ground these days to sympathize with a rake like the Don, whose “seductions” would today land him in some pretty hot water. When the Don's servant Leporello sings the “Catalog Aria” listing all of Don Giovanni’s conquests, there are over 2000 women, from young to old, poor to rich, across five different countries. It doesn't take much effort to imagine that all across Europe, this oversexed bounder has left behind a swath of angry people, despite his charms.
Don Giovanni remains one of the greatest operas (and my own personal favorite) because it is so roundly human in the way its story is told in the libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, not to mention the limitless glories of Mozart's music. And when you couple such a rich story with the Met’s stellar orchestra, the New York Philharmonic’s Alan Gilbert at the podium, and a great cast, the result is magical.