Monday, August 14, 2023


 Reviewed by James Karas

There are times when you see a production of an opera where the imagination of the director has taken such a leap that it leaves you breathless. It does not happen often but it does in Louisa Proske’s production of Handel’s Rinaldo at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.

Rinaldo premiered in 1711 and is an opera seria that was sung by castrati. It has a plot about war, love and sorcery around 1099 during the Crusades. Briefly, the hero Rinaldo loves Almirena, the daughter of King Goffredo. The enemy is led by Argante who is told by the sorceress Armida that the only way he can win is is by capturing Rinaldo. She agrees to capture him herself and she abducts Almirena as well.

Moving on, Argante is in love with Armida and sorceress falls in love with her prisoner Rinaldo, The Christians also have a Sorcerer and, you may have guessed it, Rinaldo and Almirena are rescued and they all live happily ever after,

Handel and his librettist Giacomo Rossi call for a magic castle, a mountain, views of Jerusalem and paraphernalia that Cecil B. de Mille would have been hard put to provide.

Proske and Set Designer Montana Blanco  do away with most of that and leave it to our imagination. The opera opens in a modern hospital room with two youngsters in separate beds, One of  them is unconscious and the other one is awake and dreaming of the heroic deeds of the knights who fought in the Crusades and specifically of Rinaldo. His imagination takes flight and knights jump in through the window of his hospital room. They outfit him as a knight and we see Goffredo outfitted as a leader of the crusades. 

The cast of the 2023 Glimmerglass Festival production of Rinaldo.
 Photo Credit: Evan Zimmerman/The Glimmerglass Festival

The two youngsters become Rinaldo and Almirena. The hospital staff and visitors become the rest of the characters of the opera. The large window at the back is used as a screen for the projection of photographs and videos including a cartoon representation of the climb of Goffredo and his followers up the steep mountain to fight the sorceress, Armida. They are blown away. The Sorcerer on Rinaldo’s side arms them with injection needles  and they go back and blow the Armida side off.

The imaginative transformation of two youngsters in a hospital into the main characters of the opera and the ability to carry the whole idea to the end struck me as brilliant. The opera begins and ends in the hospital room where the hospital staff and visitors who became the medieval characters revert to their modern selves.

The staging and directing are accompanied by some extraordinary singing. The production boasts three countertenors. Even in Handel’s time, the castrati who sang the major male roles were rotated by undamaged singers but for this production Glimmerglass found three outstanding countertenors. Rinaldo is sung by Anthony Roth Costanzo who has a delicate physique and a voice of surpassing beauty and versatility that manages all the trills with utter ease.  The same high praise belongs to countertenor Kyle Sanchez Tingzon  who sings Goffredo as well as countertenor Nicholas Kelliher who sings the smaller role of Sorcerer.

Peter Murphy, Kyle Sanchez Tingzon, Madison Hertel, and Anthony 
Roth Costanzo. Photo Credit: Evan Zimmerman/The Glimmerglass Festiva

Jasmine Habersham sings Almirena in a fine performance. But when it comes to female characters, the show is stolen by soprano Keely Futterer as the sorceress Armida. Dressed in black and accompanied by three Furies dressed completely in black, she plays up the role and manages magical appearances and disappearances as Almirena. A robust and vocally accomplished performance.

Bass-baritone Korin Thomas-Smith sings Argante, the leader of the “other side’ who is in love with Armida. Fine, resonant voice and superb performance.

I make no secret of my admiration of Louisa Proske’s imaginative treatment of the opera. But in all fairness, I should mention that there was a production of Rinaldo at Glyndebourne in 2011 that bears some resemblance to Proske’s It was directed by Robert Carsen and it set in an English private school where the students take on the roles of the opera. It is not as well thought through as Proske’s and the singers are more conventional. But that production is more Monty Python’s Spamalot than Handel.


Rinaldo George Frideric Handel is being performed five times between July 28 and August 17, 2023, at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Thursday, August 10, 2023


 Reviewed by James Karas

The Glimmerglass Festival has chosen to revive Francesca Zambello’s 2015 production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide for this season. It is an unwieldy and at times difficult work to produce but Zambello managed to bring it together as a well-done satire and opera that thrilled the audience.

It is a robust, fast-moving, colourful and very well-sung production that almost zips you through all the plot complications to the final philosophical conclusion that the work is all about. You may not follow every detail, especially the philosophical backdrop  but you should enjoy the overall production.

And, yes, Candide has a serious philosophical underpinning that is presented through biting satire and comedy. On the more earthy level, there is murder, rape, war, pillage, robbery and a few other such happenings in human life that are a part of the comic operetta. It is based on a novella by Voltaire, after all.

Dr. Pangloss lives in Westphalia with the un-aristocratic Candide (Brian Vu) who loves Cunegonde (Katina Galka), the aristocratic daughter of the Baron of Westphalia (Carlos Ahrens). A commoner loving an aristocratic lady is verboten and Candide is summarily thrown out of Westphalia. Cunegonde joins him. Thus begin his travels around the world. He meets colourful and evil characters and goes through dramatic events in places like Bavaria, Montevideo, Paraguay, El Dorado and Venice. Cunegonde is with him but they are  separated and she is raped by soldiers during a war, he is flogged almost to death and I will not bore you with all the cruelties and examples of inhumanity that the operetta contains. Remember that the intent is a comic and satirical view of human conduct and institutions.

The novella and the comic opera are in the style of a picaresque work that depicts the adventures of a hero like Candide covering numerous episodes across many venues.

Brian Vu as Candide and Katrina Gulka as Cunegonde. 
Photo credit: Evan Zimmerman/The Glimmerglass Festival.

During the travels and various encounters, there is music and numerous songs, of course. Bernstein’s compositions from the now-famous overture to the incidental music to the songs are brilliant, muscular, lyrical, frequently demanding and a feast for the ear. 

The cast is led by actor Bradley Dean, a man of the theatre, who takes on the roles of Voltaire as the host and as Dr. Pangloss, the wise companion of Candide. He is charismatic and a vivacious raconteur who gives a splendid performance.

Candide is the eternal optimist who believes all is done for the good. Yes, we do live in the best of all possible worlds and no facts or disasters can dissuade him from that conviction. Needless to say, it’s all a joke.  Bernstein makes serious vocal demands on Brian Vu as Candide and he performs brilliantly. The same applies to Katrina Galka as Cunegonde who scales her high notes effortlessly and gives us a very admirable heroine.

The 2023 production of Candide. Photo credit:
 Evan Zimmerman/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Our heroes do give as well as take punishment. Dr. Pangloss is sentenced to death and Cunegonde to flogging. She is “shared” by the Grand Inquisitor (Ryan Johnson) and Don Issacar but they are both killed by our stars. The same thing happens to Maximillian when he objects to Candide marrying Cunegonde. Sweet revenge. 

As I said, Candide is based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella. The musical/opera based on it opened on Broadway in 1956 with music by Leonard Bernstein and libretto by Lilian Hellman. It didn’t really work. Since then, it has gone through head-spinning changes and revisions. The Glimmerglass production credits Hugh Wheeler for the book and Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John la Touche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein for the lyrics.

The current revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2015 production is a lively and colourful Candide that flowed reasonably smoothly despite its unwieldy plot and far too many twists and turns. Eric Sean Fogel’s revival with set designs by James Noone  and costume designs by Jennifer Moeller gives us a coherent and well-sung production. Joeph Colaneri conducts the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus.

Candide by Leonard Bernstein et. al. opened on July 8 and will be performed twelve times until August 20, 2023, at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. 

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greel Press

Wednesday, August 9, 2023


 Reviewed by James Karas

The Glimmerglass Festival came to life in 1975 with four performances in the auditorium of Cooperstown High School. Things picked up after that modest start and in 1987 it constructed the Alice Busch Opera Theatre along the shore of Otsego Lake, in the beautiful rolling countryside a few miles from Cooperstown. Yes, that is the one-street town that is famous for the Baseball Hall of Fame and one street full of stores selling baseball memorabilia.

The opera that was produced in the high school auditorium was Puccini’s La Boheme, which happens to be one of this year’s offerings in the 1200-seat Alice Busch Opera Theatre and not in the high school auditorium.

The current production, conducted by Nader Abbassi and directed by E. Loren Meeker, is a pleasure to watch, moving, well-sung, on superb sets. It is pure Bohème without directorial high jinks. Meeker knows the opera well. She directed the original 2016 production at the Glimmerglass Festival and had it set in the Paris of the colourful Belle Epoque of Toulouse Lautrec.    

What do we want? Give us a Mimi that will make Rodolfo  (and us) fall in love with her while searching for her key and make him and everyone in sight bawl in the final scene when she dies. Soprano Teresa Perrotta steps onto the stage to achieve all that. She is a young singer who won the 2023 Grand Final of The Metropolitan Opera Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition. That propelled her into some minor roles until she was cast as Mimi for the Glimmerglass Festival production. 

Teresa Perrotta as Mimi and Joshua Blue as Rodolfo.
Photo credit: Evan Zimmerman/The Glimmerglass Festiva

She has a sweet and affecting voice that makes us love her and cry for her, and root for her when she describes her status as a poor but hard-working and virtuous young woman. She wants her candle lit by Rodolfo, she loses her key and tells us so delicately “Mi chiamano Mimi.” Perrotta carries us along Mimi’s love story, her distress and her fortitude when she separates from Rodolfo with no ill will.

What about Rodolfo, the poor, passionate poet, living in a cold garret in Paris who falls in love with Mimi deeply and forever and leaves her shortly after that.  Tenor Joshua Blue has been around the operatic block a few times and is climbing the artistic ladder with what seems to be a handsome and firm voice. Rodolfo has some fine moments and needs some high notes to express passion, pain and regret. He succeeds superbly. Puccini and his librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa make him look like a jealous cad who abandons Mimi when he realizes she is seriously ill. But he is no cad. He separates from her because he cannot provide for her. He leaves her so she can find someone who can look after her. A superb performance by Blue.

Rodolfo’s garret mate and two friends do not always get the notice and appreciation that they deserve. True, they are relatively minor characters but they make a significant contribution to the opera. 

The cast of 2023's Glimmerglass Festival production of 
La bohème. Photo credit: Evan Zimmerman/The Glimmerglass Festival

I tip my hat to them and endow them with kudos. We have Darren Lakeith Drone as Marcello, the painter; Justin Burgess as Schaunard, the musician and Nan Wang as  Colline the philosopher along with Rodolfo, of course. Under Meeker’s direction, they make the friendship appear real through thick and thin. They can laugh and find fun in their poverty and stand with Rodolfo and Mimi in her last moments. Fine vocal performances by all.

Kevin Depinet’s sets are perfect for the production. The garret set is a reflection of the artists’ wherewithal, the scene at the Café Momus is colourful, full of activity and carnival joy.

Nader Abbassi conducts the Glimmerglass Orchestra, Chorus and Youth Chorus with vivacity and superb playing.         
La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini (music) and Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (libretto) opened on July 7 and will be performed thirteen times until August 19, 2023, at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. More information at:

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Tuesday, August 8, 2023


 Reviewed by James Karas

The Glimmerglass Festival on the shore of Otsego Lake in upstate New York is at it again with its wonderful productions of operas in an idyllic setting. In its classic format, the Festival offers five productions this summer, namely La Boheme, Candide, Rinaldo and  The Rip Van Winkles, a new opera commissioned by the Festival. An Evening With Anthony Roth Costanzo and Love & War, a program of Cladio Monteverdi madrigals are two bonus performances.

Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet gets a superb production, directed by Simon Godwin and conducted by Joseph Colaneri. It is a modern-dress production, beautifully designed and judiciously directed with attention to detail with superb playing by the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra.

Librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré were faithful to Shakespeare’s text subject to making cuts to allow the opera to be performed in less than three hours with one intermission. It is sung in French but we do get some of Shakespeare’s memorable lines in the English surtitles.

The singing was very good with some superb performances. Tenor Duke Kim was agile vocally and physically as Romeo. He showed versatility and displayed Romeo’s passion and despair with fervour and gave an all-around enjoyable performance.

Juliet was sung by soprano Magdalena Kuzma, a young and developing singer who showed some fine vocalizing. However, her vocal strength was more apparent when she showed conviction and defiance rather than when she expressed love and passion. I felt that her voice may be more suitable for dramatic soprano roles rather than the lyrical quality that is more suitable, indeed essential for Juliet.  

Magdalena Kuźma (above) as Juliet and Duke Kim as Romeo.
Credit: Evan Zimmerman/The Glimmerglass Festival

Bass-baritone Stefano de Peppo as Lord Capulet starts the opera with the joyous aria “Allons! jeunes gens!” inviting the guests at his party to have fun. It is an ironic opening to an opera that will end in utter tragedy. De Peppo’s performance is marvelous as a forthright singer and Juliet’s father.

Baritone Olivier Zerouali (Mercutio), another young singer, had the opportunity to display his versatility and showmanship especially in “Mab, reine des mensonges” and he did with pizazz.

Bass Sergio Martinez sang Friar Laurence with sonority and a beautiful display of decency. Contralto Meredith Arwady plays Gertrude, better known as the Nurse, as a comic and upfront character that is quite enjoyable.

The set by Dan Soule is superb in its effect and versatility. It consists of several moveable pieces that at first show the aristocratic house of the Capulets. A grand staircase can be seen and a balcony. The pieces are moved around for the balcony scene, the street scene, Friar Laurence’s cell, Juliet’s bedroom etc. Efficient and effective without ostentation.

(L to R) Magdalena Kuźma as Juliet, Stefano de Peppo as 
Count Capulet, and Meredith Arwady as Gertrude. 
Photo Credit: Evan Zimmerman/The Glimmerglass Festival

Director Simon Godwin is a man of the theatre who has directed many Shakespeare plays including Romeo and Juliet for the stage. His sense of theatre serves him well in directing this production. The various scenes are handled meticulously and with Choreographer Jonathan Goddard the fight scenes are done splendidly.

The masked party of the opening scene gives the impression that the costumes may be some adaptation of sixteenth century attire. In the subsequent scenes the actors wear modern clothes which work just fine for the production.

The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra shone under the baton of Joseph Colaneri  


Romeo and Juliet by Charles Gounod opened on July 15 and will be performed in repertory seven times until August 19, 2023, at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Wednesday, July 19, 2023


 Reviewed by James Karas

If you are going to the opera and notice that what you are about to see is directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov, tighten up your seatbelt because you may be in for a rough ride. The rough ride could be thrilling or whatever the opposite of thrilling is that will cause you to boo, metaphors aside, the production that you actually see.

I speak of the current production of Cosi Fan Tutte at the former residence of the Archbishop of Aix-en-Provence, now called the Theatre de l’Archevêché.  Cosi was the first opera to be produced at the Aix-en-Provence Festival when it opened in 1948 and there can be few people who attended that performance and attend this year’s showing but sometimes historic nostalgia is as important as actual memory.

As to the plot of Cosi, we all know that with some variations we have the beautiful sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella who, with their maid the feisty Despina, live in a mansion in Naples overlooking the harbour.

They are deeply, madly, eternally in love with Guglielmo and Ferrando and we know that because they tell us that it is the absolute truth. The latter gentlemen feel exactly the same way about the ladies, and they are willing to put their lives or whatever to dispel any doubts about their devotion. But their friend, the cynical and wise philosopher Don Alfonso (I think that’s what he is) is willing to make a bet that all women are capable of infidelity and that is confirmed by the title of the opera.

Wanna bet? Yes, they do. Don Alfonso “sends” the men to war, and the same men disguised as Albanians are brought to the ladies’ posh residence by him. The ladies do not recognize the newcomers who woo them with passion and conviction. My impression has always been that the two beauties are very nice but not very swift. Leave to Mozart’s music to overwhelm you and suspend your disbelief.

The two couples near their beds. Photo Monika Ritterhaus

What does Tcherniakov give us. Forget most of the above. Two middle-aged couples are, in Tcherniakov’s words, “in a fancy villa in the forest or perhaps a chalet in the mountains.” The set shows a sitting area with an ordinary table and six chairs with two inviting bedrooms with big beds behind but let’s not quibble about that.

The two couples make use of the bedrooms during the overture and when the opera begins, we discover that they are Guglielmo and Fiordiligi, and Ferrando and Dorabella with Don Alfonso and Despina. We already saw Don Alfonso molesting, yes, sexually interfering with Despina’s anatomy, but she seemed to participate in the encounter after some resistance. We will see more of Don Alfonso as a dirty old man.

But right now, our attention is riveted toward the lovers who are past the bloom of youth and are in fact in their fifties. I take the liberty of assuming that whatever they were doing on those beautiful beds was not for the first time.     

The holiday in the forest or in the mountains takes place now and the men and women are dressed in modern clothes so there is no eighteenth or nineteenth century prudery. Guglielmo and Ferrando as the presumed Albanians of the original production appear in modern clothes with masks which they quickly take off and even Mozart’s gorgeous music is asking too much of us to suspend our disbelief. Where are those mustachioed and overdressed Albanians when you need them?

The pervert and the maid. Photo: Erika Ritterhaus

The middle-aged men and women re-discovering love and passion with a different partner and the women tasting infidelity may not have the same stigma that it did, say, 250 years ago. But Tcherniakov does not stop there. Despina with a blonde wig looks like something out of a Marx brothers’ movie but her relationship with Don Alonso may not be as consensual as we would like to think. They engage in simulated coitus in front of our eyes that is not all bad except that we do not expect the elder philosopher Don Alfonso to be such a dirty old man.

Pervert Don Alfonso kisses Ferrando and Fiordiligi on the lips quite seriously. A shotgun is introduced early in the performance and as in a Chekhov play, it is eventually used on stage.

I have spoken at great length about Tcherniakov, but the performers deserve much credit. True they are all in their fifties (except for Nicole Chevalier whose date of birth I could not find). But, even if they stumble now and then, they do superb work.  They are baritone Russell Braun as Guglielmo, soprano Agneta Eichenholz as Fiordiligi, tenor Rainer Trost as Ferrando, mezzo Claudia Mahnke as Dorabella, baritone Georg Nigl as Don Alfonso and soprano Nicole Chevalier as Despina. The Balthasar Neumann Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Thomas Hengelbrock plays Mozart’s music with incredible beauty and finesse.      

Directors pushing the envelope to produce operas in different locations with radical interpretations, especially in Europe, is nothing new. In fact, the last time Cosi was produced at the Aix-en-Provence Festival was in 2016 directed by Christophe Honoré. He set his production in a slum in a village in colonial Africa. The director was roundly booed.

This time the reaction at curtain call was mixed. There are boos no doubt but also applause of approval. I admire Tcherniakov’s work, and I would never boo his brilliant inventiveness and imagination. One can legitimately say that he may have gone too far with his inventiveness in this production but isn’t that the reason we want to see what he has in mind?


Cosi Fan Tutte continues at the Théâtre de l'Archevêché until July 21, 2023 in Aix-en-Provence, France.

James Karas is the Senior Editor- Culture of The Greek Press. This review appears in the newspaper

Monday, July 17, 2023


 Reviewed by James Karas

The Aix-en-Provence Festival is in its 75th year and from the 4th to the 24th of July 2023 the gorgeous medieval city in the south of France becomes a mecca of cultural activities from productions of opera, ballet, concerts, and lectures to keep one occupied almost constantly.

The Festival opened on July 4 with a new production of The Threepenny Opera that featured some amazing features. It is done in French in a new translation by Alexandre Pateau in an adaptation by German man of the theater Thomas Ostermeier who also directed the production. L’opéra de quat’sous (four sous) is the French title of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1928 collaboration. The production is supposed to be faithful to the 1928 text with the addition of a new song, “Pauv’ Madam Peachum” with text by Yvette Guilbert, adapted by Pateau.

In an innovative step, the production uses actors from the Comédie-Française instead of conventional opera singers, and Le balcon, a band of about a dozen musicians playing a variety of instruments under the direction of Maxime Pascal.  

Most people know something about The Threepenny Opera. It is a product of the moral and financial morass of the 1920s Weimar Republic Berlin. It is not an opera in the conventional sense, of course, but a parody that attacks private property, capitalism, morality, the bourgeois, the justice system and gives a frightful portrait of life in the slums of London. Crime, corruption, prostitution are the milieu of the work. It is based to some extent on John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera.

Ostermeier takes an idiosyncratic approach to the opera by producing it partly as a concert version and partly as a fully performed work. This is no doubt a bow to the theory of epic theatre. More about that in a minute.  When the performance begins, we see four microphones prominently displayed on the stage.  Claina Clavaron sings “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” about the demi-monde of the opera and the anti-hero and preeminent criminal Macheath. otherwise known as Mac the Knife in a style resembling a 1920’s cabaret performance. 

Scene from Threepenny Opera. Photo © Jean-Louis Fernandez

From then on, the singing and the dialogue part of the opera will be performed on the microphone or by the characters interacting in the usual way in the theatre. The choice to have actors speak on the microphone rather than interact with the other characters in the scene is the choice of director Ostermeier. This is no doubt an attempt at giving us the then nascent idea of Brecht known as epic theatre, an attempt to treat a play as if it were the recitation of an epic poem rather than an attempt at realistic representation. This is not the place for an essay on epic theater but that idea and Brecht’s dedication to Marxism were not fully developed in 1928.

The Threepenny Opera is, despite its name, a play with songs and therefore has a lot of dialogue between sung numbers. The actors of the Comedie-Francaise spoke it, in various speeds as required by the text. Those without a facility for French dialogue at a certain speed (like moi) could not read the English surtitles with any appreciable speed. But I am sure there were few such types.

After the Ballad we get down to business in what is supposed to be a London slum but there is no indication of that. We start with the disgusting Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum (Christian Hecq), a portly gentleman who is the boss of the beggars. He trains and outfits them at their cost and collects 50% of their “earnings.” This may be the original franchise method of doing business. Peachum has a “lovely” wife and partner called Celia (Veronique Vella). They have a pretty daughter called Polly (Marie Oppert) who, horrors, wants to marry some low-life and yes, it is Macheath himself played by a suave Birane Ba.

In the next scene we attend the nuptials of the happy couple with a collection of criminals and Chief of Police Brown (Benjamin Lavernhe). What follows is a scene of slapstick comedy with pies (cake really) thrown at people in a scene reminiscent of The Three Stooges. In true epic theatre style, the actors get down on their knees and clean up the mess made by the cakes when the party is over.

The production continues in the same style with Peachum’s desire to have Macheath arrested and Brown protecting him. They were army buddies after all. There is treachery, bribery, and ballads like the one about sexual obsession, melodrama, the song of Solomon and others.   

The sets by Magda Willi are minimal with no hint of London slums. The action takes place during the coronation of a queen, and you can decide a more precise chronology for that but don’t bother. There are video projections by Sebastien Dupouey of geometric figures and black and white photographs and film clips but I could not make head or tails of them. Florence von Gerkan’s costumes were modern but colourful to portray some of the low-lives and hookers of the underworld.

The actors of the Comédie-Française performed with assurance and aplomb from slapstick comedy to more serious scenes and especially comic ones of satire, parody and ridicule of society as well as betrayal, arrest and almost execution of Macheath. In case you forgot the end of the opera, rest at ease. Macheath is pardoned by the newly crowned queen and made a lord.

There are some lyrical songs and the assorted musicians of Pascal’s Le Balcon performed with gusto.

The Threepenny Opera has gained a sure-footed niche in modern culture with some of the songs like The Ballad of Mack the Knife that have gained honourable status. The work has posed difficulties in classification. There is no need. Opera houses and theatres are producing it on a regular basis, and no one should care about classification.


The Threepenny Opera (L’opera de quat’sous) by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill opened on July 4 and will be performed on different dates until July 24, 2023, at the Théâtre de l’Archevêché, Aix-en-Provence, France.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review appears in the newspaper

Thursday, June 1, 2023


Reviewed by James Karas

New York’s Metropolitan Opera has brought its stunning new production of Don Giovanni to a theatre near millions of people around the world who could otherwise not imagine seeing it. There are many things one can say about Ivo van Hove’s vision of the opera. Idiosyncratic, perhaps eccentric, maybe unorthodox, highly imaginative, thought-provoking, even controversial. You can choose other descriptions but the conclusion should be that this is an extraordinary production of a great opera.

It is a modern dress production but the suits and ordinary dresses worn by the cast with few exceptions are just the beginning. The pretty country girl Zerlina and the bumpkin Masetto that she is about to marry are dressed in ordinary clothes with no indication of class difference between them and the aristocratic Don Giovanni and the other upper crust members.

The set goes further in capturing van Hove’s bleak view. Several stark concrete buildings form a cul-de sac. There are openings for doors and windows but they are just gaping holes. The set is rotated at some points but there are no interior scenes and no indication of wealth or views of the countryside. Simple concrete.

What kind of Don Giovanni do we get? I think the best way to describe him is as a relative of Donald Trump. He is a slimy lecher who considers women as sex objects to be had and discarded. You can forget any notions of the romantic lover. He is no doubt a talented seducer with money and status to fool most women but they represent the proverbial notches on the headboard of his bed and are not worthy of more consideration. 

A scene from Mozart's "Don Giovanni" Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Take the opening scene where the beautiful Donna Anna (Federica Lombardi) is grabbing Don Giovanni as he tries to get away from her room where they had sex. She wants to know who he is and he refuses to identify himself. We see how he operates when he tries to seduce the innocent Zerlina, a country girl who is about to get married. She falls for his devilish lies. Did he pull the same stunt on Donna Anna and she fell in love with him? Now that he had his “notch” he is no longer interested.

The same story is seen in his relationship with Donna Elvira (Ana Maria Martinez). She is a previous victim looking for him, not to punish him, but to get him back. This Donna Elvira is constructed terrifically by van Hove and sung and acted superbly by Martinez. She is not a young woman but one that is almost ready to be put on the proverbial shelf and there is desperation on her search for her lost and perhaps last love. This Donna Elvira is much more credible than an irate woman looking for revenge.

When Leporello (Adam Plachetka) reads out the catalogue of Don Giovanni’s “conquests” to Donna Elvira, it is in fact a list of victims who believed his grotesque lies and served his momentary sexual lust before being discarded like a used napkin.

Near the end of the opera, Donna Anna tells her patient and loving fiancée Don Ottavio (Ben Bliss) that she will postpone their wedding for a year. I have thought that this postponement is prompted by her love of Don Giovanni. In this production she shows genuine affection for Don Ottavio and it may be another twist by van Hove.

The singing is outstanding. Baritone Peter Mattei, wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie, delivers a stunningly sung Trumpian scumbag of a Don Giovanni. He just loves women, he tells us. Bass-baritone Adam Plachetka is a superb Leporello, long-suffering with sparks of decency but unable to do much. In the end I thought he would walk off with Donna Elvira bur servants don’t get aristocratic women.

Federica Lombardi as Donna Anna is gorgeous in her singing and acting. We can decide for ourselves the motivations of the Commendatore’s (Alexander Tsymbalyuk) daughter but we can only heap praise on Lombardi for her silk voice and marvellous performance.

Martinez’s Donna Elvira who can be seen as a woman raging with ire and passion is here a lady in pain looking for a lost, and as I said, perhaps, last love. Martinez has been made to look the part and her performance is simply stellar.

Soprano Ying Fang’s Zerlina is very pretty, sings beautifully, is ambitious but not very bright. We love her regardless and we applaud her when she persuades the oafish Masetto of Alfred Walker that she still loves him even though she bolted almost from the altar. Just wonderful.

A simply marvellous production.


Don Giovanni by W. A. Mozart was shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on May 20 and will be rebroadcast on June 10, 2023 at various Cineplex theatres.  For more information:

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press