[Met Performance] CID:216940

Don Giovanni
Metropolitan Opera House, Tue, December 17, 1968

Debut : Teresa Zylis-Gara

Don Giovanni (275)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart | Lorenzo Da Ponte
Don Giovanni
Cesare Siepi

Donna Anna
Martina Arroyo

Don Ottavio
Peter Schreier

Donna Elvira
Teresa Zylis-Gara [Debut]

Geraint Evans

Judith Raskin

Theodor Uppman

John Macurdy

Silvio Varviso

Herbert Graf

Eugene Berman

Zachary Solov

Stage Director
Patrick Tavernia

Don Giovanni received eight performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Byron Belt for the Newhouse Newspapers

Even Weak 'Don' Welcome

The Metropolitan Opera introduced its only Mozart opera of the season last evening when its fading Eugene Berman production of "Don Giovanni" was presented before the usual capacity audience.

"Don Giovanni" has inspired endless discussions on the philosophical and artistic levels, and the work is generally conceded to be one of the few truly great operas. It takes a great deal for any performance to bring the very sequential drama into focus and it takes more to bring the music to life with brilliance and grandeur. In spite of an international cast that bore every sign of having been carefully, if not too imaginatively prepared, the Met cannot be said to have triumphed over the many elements involved.

"Don Giovanni" requires an ensemble of stars, and while the cast had numerous strengths, its weaknesses diminished the possibility of success considerably. In the title role, Cesare Siepi, has dominated the part in many performances; one might, alas, feel compelled to say too many. The sparkle is gone, both vocally and character-wise, leaving nothing more than a thoroughly professional artist offering his best which is no longer quite enough.

The three great female roles are always special problems. Last night offered one major debut, that of Polish soprano Teresa Zylis-Gara as Donna Elvira. The singer is attractive in a round, friendly way, with a lovely voice, at least for her debut, was used with great care and limited expressiveness. Now Donna Elvira is a woman spurned and is really half mad with frustrated desire. When she comes on to the stage she sweeps all before her, and rarely relinquishes the spotlight. Miss Zylis-Gara may be many things but she is none of these. She will surely be better judged in a role less electric in its potential.

Martina Arroyo is a familiar Donna Anna by now, and hers is a performance just short of greatness. At its natural best, the voice is of incredible beauty, and although she is no actress, the musical conception is always dramatic. In her big scenes the erratic vocal production causes a few misses, but the overall effect is often quite thrilling.

Once Judith Raskin's Zerlina has been described as matronly, more hardly need be said. If this girl can't be described as adorable, simple miscasting must take the blame. In addition to an uncomfortable stage presence, Miss Raskin's once shining voice now tends too often toward shrillness.

The remaining male roles range from the stilted character of Don Ottavio to the low life comic elements of Leporello and Masetto. As the pale nobleman tenor Peter Schreier seemed to be having difficulties which is hardly a surprise today. More seriously disturbing is his square enunciation and phrasing and a voice far less silken than the ideal of Leopold Simoneau.

Geraint Evans is one of the rare artists equally at home in comedy and tragedy. His Leporello balances just the right amount of the servant instinct for survival and an ability to observe everything around him with a slightly detached air of amusement. Evans is a splendid artist whose dramatic roles in "Peter Grimes" and "Wozzeck" later in the season are eagerly awaited. Theodor Uppman is the sort of performer who lights up the stage his every entrance. He is a singing actor of the highest quality and Masetto is merely one of many roles in which he excels.

Silvio Varviso conducted a rather small scale performance lacking in thrust for the dramatic passages, but one that provided considerable brightness and movement in the lighter moments. While the sum of this "Don Giovanni" isn't quite up to the Mozart whole, the opera is still a welcome addition to the holiday musical scene.

Review 2:

Review of Irving Kolodin in the January 4, 1969 issue of the Saturday

Come weal or come woe, Eugene Berman's production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" has been a house pride at the Metropolitan since it was first presented in 1957, and it remains so in its reappearance this season. There is, indeed, much more weal than woe in the cast of this reinstatement, which finds Cesare Siepi supporting on his broad voice and even broader shoulders still another set of antagonists (plus a new conductor) in the part which he has been performing at the Metropolitan for a decade and a half.

It is, of course, an excellent thing for a production of "Don Giovanni" to have a fine Don, and Siepi has held the rank of world standard almost from the time he began to play it at the old Metropolitan in 1952. The fascinations of listening to Siepi refine his delivery of the vocal content of perhaps the most challenging role in the Mozart canon has been equaled by the interests of watching the evolution of his dramatic conception. Inevitably, as he has grown older, he has played the part with greater identity with the inner impulses of the Don, less and less with the superficial physical ones: Now, while he still commands the vocal strength to deliver the music easily and effectively (in all but a few high-lying passages), he has added a touch of the Mephistophelean to his make-up, which is inconceivably remote from the college-boy enthusiasm (for the chase, as well as the chaste) which characterized his conception at the outset. It suggests that the Don will be meeting the keeper of the Lower Regions on almost equal terms when he arrives at his predestined destination.

There was, in this cast, an arrangement of voices that met Siepi's power on rather more even terms than has been true on some occasions in the past. The principal counterbalance to his strength at the low end was the power displayed by Martina Arroyo at the high end in her first performance of Donna Anna. Some may say that she does, indeed, overpower the music rather than merely perform it, but there is one virtue to an excess that is not present in an insufficiency - it "can" be reduced. Were Arroyo to throttle back on some applications of her Aida sound (especially in the recitative preceding "Or sai chi l'onore," and the delivery of the aria itself), to drive less and coast more, she could arrive at a satisfactory solution of the musical problem in this part - no mean achievement in itself.

In between were arrayed a quintet of healthy, well used voices that gave a more than ordinarily satisfactory sound to the ensembles. The total takes in a quintet rather than a more usual quartet, because the Leporello was Geraint Evans. This agile artist has, as those who saw him do it a few years ago will recall, made an artistic totality of this part on a level with his Falstaff. Shading off in the various range levels was (in addition to Theodor Uppman's always admirable Masetto and John Macurdy's vibrant Cornmendatore) an assortment of people and voices new to these roles at the Metropolitan, but destined to become favorites as well as familiar.

Least familiar and possibly most welcome was Teresa Zylis-Cara, who had recently performed in San Francisco and was making her Metropolitan debut. The order of importance assigned to her relates to the part she performed, for Donna Elvira is a special challenge, dramatically as well as vocally. Zylis-Gara, who has emerged from her Polish background onto the international operatic stage within the last eight or so years, has unusual attributes for Elvira. Her voice is both bright and substantial, which means that she can convey the intensity of emotion in the role - she is, after all, the only one in the east who truly loves the Don - without sounding shrewish. The last great Elvira, in a quite different way was Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Zylis-Gara, an accomplished technician as well as a good-looking woman and capable actress, could well take over both the role and the rank of her distinguished predecessor. Peter Schreier, who had made himself welcome here as Tamino in "Die Zauberflöte" last season, showed some excellent attributes in his first Don Ottavio. His command as a singer was demonstrated when he had a moment of vocal dryness in the [first] words of "Dalla sua pace" but recovered to sing it beautifully. Finally, Judith Raskin added the role of Zerlina to others she has sung with taste, finesse, and superior musicality.

On the dramatic side, this "Don Giovanni encountered obstacles and inequalities that separated it from true distinction for the simple reason that there had been either 1) inadequate time to create a truly cohesive ensemble, or 2) insufficiently expert direction to bring about the desired encl. When the peasant maid Zerlina is much more of a lady, in action and demeanor, than the highborn Donna Anna, then something has gone amiss. Raskin's Zerlina showed an interesting effort to project the character's vacillation between the sexual attraction of the Don and her affection for the amiable Masetto she is about to marry; but it could have started from a lower point of feminine suavity and been the more effective thereby. At the other extreme, Arroyo's Donna Anna could be polished and refined to remove rough edges more appropriate to the servant than the lady.

In the kind of circumstances that prevail in such a repertory theater as the Metropolitan, such adjustments and refinements must either be provided by the employment of experienced personnel, by the stage director, or by the conductor. Obviously, the personnel was not all that experienced, nor was the stage director (Patrick Tavernia, as stand-in for Herbert Graf, who created the production in its original form, with quite another group of people sixteen years ago) equal to all the inequalities that emerged.

This put pivotal pressure on conductor Silvio Varviso, who first came to the Metropolitan when Joan Sutherland made her debut in "Lucia di Lanmermoor" in 1961 and has since come and gone as conductor of a variety of other works, ranging from J. Strauss ("Fledermaus") to R. Strauss ("Ariadne auf Naxos"). He has, along the way, become principal conductor at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. Varviso is an estimable musician and a loyalist to the convention which decrees that the singer is queen (or king) of the operatic realm. This endears him to singers, for understandable reasons, and may be acceptable in those works where such regal considerations outrank all others, For such a work as "Don Giovanni,", however, the kind of consideration for and understanding of vocal problems that Varviso commands not only should but most be combined with a broader sense of urgencies, musical and dramatic, than he currently deploys, To a fine ear for vocal values and a valuable understanding of how they can be best served, Varviso has to add the dynamics of a stronger personal attitude if he is to sustain his choice as conductor of so demanding a work as "Don Giovanni."

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