British baritone Simon Keenlyside makes derring-do return to The Met in "Don Giovanni"


NEW YORK >> After four years' absence from the Metropolitan Opera, Simon Keenlyside makes an attention-grabbing return, leaping from a balcony railing onto a ladder and scrambling down to the stage.

"I want it to look a bit dangerous," the British baritone said of his entrance in the title role of Mozart's "Don Giovanni." "I learned long ago that if I start out with one very athletic, maybe even tricksy move, the audience would think I did it all night."

For Keenlyside, an element of danger is key to the personality of Mozart's serial seducer.

"He's inquisitive and he's risk-taking," he said in an interview at the Met. "With his god, with his manners. He brings peasants into his palace. There are so many offensive and provocative things that the man does, and on a tiny scale that first entrance, it adds to the sum total, adds to the color of the man."

But audiences watching this Saturday's matinee, broadcast live in HD to movie theaters worldwide, needn't worry that Keenlyside is putting himself in physical jeopardy.

"I have one leg over the railing and the other leg hooked onto it," he said. "I put insoles in my tights so that when I jump for the ladder it won't hurt my feet. And I make sure I've got my hands on it so whatever happens I'm safe."

The HD broadcast of "Don Giovanni" will be shown starting at 12:55 p.m. on Saturday at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. There will be an encore screening at the Mahaiwe and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown at 1 p.m. on Nov. 2.

Also starring as the women in the Don's life are sopranos Hibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna and Malin Bystrom as Donna Elvira, and mezzo Serena Malfi as Zerlina. Fabio Luisi conducts.

The Don is often considered one of opera's first anti-heroes, but Keenlyside said that "if the audience doesn't like him in some way, grudgingly, you haven't done your job."

He imagines librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte coming out from the curtain at the end and saying to the spectators: "I've shown you this man who's a rapist, a philanderer, who abuses everybody in every single situation. ... Do you like him? You do? Well, what does that say about you?"

The opera concludes with the Don being dragged down to hell by the statue of the Commendatore, whom he killed in a duel in the opening scene. Keenlyside thinks this end is foreshadowed as early as the finale of Act 1, when the Don is surrounded by his enemies and sings: "My head is whirling in confusion, I no longer know what's happening."

"I take it as a premonition, his first feelings of profound unease about something deeply wrong," Keenlyside said. "I often look up, because I think: 'Is someone judging me?' By the end of the second act, the fact that he goes into the supper scene with such aggressive music, it's like, OK, bring it on!"


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