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Viewpoint: Ladies' Choice

Elza van den Heever and James Morris in Don Giovanni at the Met, 2015

© Beth Bergman

A NEW DON GIOVANNI arrives at the Met on May 5, in a production by Belgian stage director Ivo van Hove. As of October 2022, the Met has presented 576 performances of the “dramma giocoso” in New York and on tour, beginning with its first season, in 1883–84. It is fascinating to look at the cast lists from the Met’s past seasons and see how the voice types used for Mozart and da Ponte’s characters have evolved. The Met’s first Don Ottavio was Roberto Stagno, the legendary Italian divo who was the Met’s first Trovatore Manrico, Enzo Grimaldi and Duke of Mantua—certainly not roles found on the résumés of today’s Mozart tenors. The first baritone to sing Don Giovanni at the Met, Giuseppe Kaschmann, was also the company’s first Telramund; the Met’s first Donna Elvira, Swedish prima donna Christine Nilsson, was also its first Lohengrin Elsa.

The role in Giovanni that has attracted the widest range of voice types is the enigmatic Donna Anna, who has been sung at the Met by Wagnerians, beginning with French diva Emmy Fursch–Madi, the Met’s first Ortrud as well as its first Donna Anna, and continuing on to the estimable Elza van den Heever, a Met Donna Anna in 2015 and the company’s Holländer Senta this season. Donna Anna can suit a Brünnhilde (Lilli Lehmann) or a Sieglinde (Rose Bampton), a Salome (Ljuba Welitsch), a Norma (Joan Sutherland, Rosa Ponselle) or an Aida (Zinka Milanov, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo), as well as Mozarteans such as Eleanor Steber, Carol Vaness and Renée Fleming. Her variety seems infinite.

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