Dons

This afternoon I scrubbed my usual roster of Saturday victims and we hit the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast of Don Giovanni.

I haven’t seen a full production for thirty years or more and I had forgotten everything but the high points. When I think of Giovanni, I usually smile; because of the lively Catalogue Aria (I’ve been known to refer to my own mille e tre); because of Zerlina’s masterful management of her jealous bridegroom after the Don courts her; because of the broad farce — flimsy disguises, walking statues, the iconic longsuffering manservant.

Only. For one thing, Simon Keenlyside’s Don was not the young nobleman who’d be put upon to rack up all those conquests, just as a matter of scheduling alone; he was a man well into the march toward middle age and cynical with it. His cry that he could not give up women, who were more vital to him than breath, had a desperate urgency. And his inflection of the Don’s lechery — that women were all his whenever he chose to covet them — put a shiver up a spine shaken by this campaign season.

You can say “I love the peasant girls — I’ll have another ten tonight” in this way or that. I kept coming back to

Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

There in the movie theater, centuries of I have the money and the land/property and the credibility and the woman over there has next to nothing and I can do what I want came crashing on my head and the music was suddenly terrible.

I played this over again when I got home.

11 thoughts on “Dons

  1. I left at the intermission, after watching the hilarious spectacle of Joyce DiDonato desperately trying to derail Keenlyside’s bizarre sociopolitical diatribe. I thought the singing was uniformly appalling from everyone onstage, but perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood.

    • Oh God, the poor woman. The Engineer and I were looking at each other in complete perplexity. How long do you think he’d been working that up? (For those not in attendance… before anything like a light fun interview could even start, this singer who should have stuck to his solfeggio was trying to Britsplain about the American Revolution and its documents — inaccurately — and Darwin and the French Revolution and somehow that had something to do with Don Giovanni. Apparently onstage, however, he could take direction.)

      The Ottavio didn’t suck. Nice soft attacks in registers where even top grade tenors often sound brassy.

      • Yeah, the Ottavio wasn’t bad, and in comparison, the Leporello wasn’t awful, but the women were SO EGREGIOUSLY HORRIBLE, and Keenlyside has too small a voice for that space, and he’s getting the mid-fifties baritone bark. Time to hang it up, pal.

        • I didn’t hate the Elvira. Her lower registers had a body and depth that tickles my little contralto cockles. I thought of Keenlyside as a singing actor. Until it became clear he was a coked-up political crackpot, anyway.

          I don’t know whose idea it was to have Elvira writhe and convulse in her spurned grief like a cat trying to hork up a particularly stubborn hairball. Only… having been surprise-dumped in my adult life (it was after five years, not three days) I can testify that, yeah, that actually happens. There’s such a thing as sobbing so intensely that you almost upchuck (especially after several hits of Drambuie from the neck of the bottle, while listening to Arthur Foote piano trios). Which is what she seemed to be doing. A bit jarring on the operatic stage, but possibly a bit of verismo. Mozart would have said WTF, I suspect.

          • That’s interesting…to me, the Elvira had her placement wayyyy too far back on her hard palate, giving her a muddy sound, and she was relying on a wide vibrato rather than bringing any precision to even the very limited first-act fioritura…I couldn’t imagine what she was going to do with “Mi tradi.” The artifact grimaces she was making in place of correct vowel conformations were also really getting on my nerves (though they paled in comparison to Donna Anna producing her vibrato with her unstable tongue and jaw). I thought both women had an awkward 2nd to 3rd passagio, resulting in dry, forced notes between E and A. And then after Zerlina took a sledgehammer to “Batti, batti,” I was hoping someone would in fact just kill her and put me out of my misery.

            I’m not impossible to please–I’ve heard plenty of singers I loved, and I’ve liked Keenlyside before he ruined his voice, partly through vocal strain and partly through thyroid surgery and partly through singing the wrong rep…he’s a lyric baritone, possibly a Kavalierbariton in certain lights, but the voice has no squillo at all, and he unwisely started singing Verdi. No no no no NO NO NO. He ruined a perfectly elegant instrument…and much though I adored him, Thomas Allen made the same mistake. No squillo= DO NOT FUCKING SING VERDI.

          • Those vowel grimaces were a bit weird, but I’ve known personally a few singers who did that, and I always try to figure out what is causing it. The covered palatal tone is actually something I have a taste for, like the English Horn, though you wouldn’t want every singer in a cast to go there. I treasure an old GlyndebournePoppaea where the nurse had that sound.

            I hadn’t ever heard Keenlyside do anything, and wondered what Joyce diDonato meant about his comeback. After that intermission feature I speculated mental hospitalization for mania or amphetamine abuse.

  2. …and yes, the opera itself becomes harder to deal with just generally speaking, except in the rare instance when every principal invests a kind of postmodernist irony in the performance, which is pretty rare. It also works when the production brings out the fact that the most loving relationship in the opera is the Don and Leporello–they’re totally married to each other, much like Walt and Jesse in “Breaking Bad.”

  3. …and not to harp on this, but I have also seen a production in which Zerlina produces a ball gag and a riding crop during “Batti batti,” which makes that a lot more tolerable, too. To anyone who speaks Italian, it’s obvious that da Ponte’s lyrics are broadly satirical, as is Mozart’s straight-faced setting, but translations lose the humor of it, unless some deliberate strategy is undertaken to make clear to the audience that this is not about domestic abuse; it’s a game she’s playing.

    • I have seen a Masetto who looked as if he were toying with the idea of “This kinky stuff might be fun!” but then, as is his job, finally went all sappy and was led away like a good boy.

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