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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni - Dramma Giocosa in Two Acts K 527, libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
Don Giovanni (bass-baritone) – Bryn Terfel
Commendatore (bass) – Sergei Koptchak
Donna Anna (soprano) – Renée Fleming
Don Ottavio (tenor) – Paul Groves
Donna Elvira (soprano) – Solveig Kringelborn
Leporello (bass) – Ferruccio Furlanetto
Masetto (bass) – John Relyea
Zerlina (soprano) – Hei-Kyung Hong
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/James Levine
Directed for the stage by Franco Zeffirelli
Directed for video by Gary Halvorson
Recorded at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, October 2000
DG 073 4010 [2 DVDs – 1 hr. 32 + 1 hr. 27min.]

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This being a production from New York’s Metropolitan Opera, I guess you’d expect something safe and traditional. And that’s exactly what we get, a no-holds-barred period piece from Zeffirelli that many people will find a tonic to any anachronistic ‘director’ theatre, or pared-down modernist staging. Indeed, the sheer opulence of this re-staging of the 1990 original takes one’s breath away. The costumes are truly sumptuous, with every lacy cuff, heaving bosom and powdered wig in place. As for the set (also by Zeffirelli), there is a scale and grandeur that threaten to dwarf the singers. Huge marble columns, massive fretwork gates and fresco backdrops fill the Met’s stage, making the whole thing look unnervingly like a Canaletto or Titian come to life.

It’s a good job the starry international cast are ‘big’ enough in their vocal talents and acting prowess to overcome this, indeed to complement it. It’s definitely the men who win out here, with Bryn Terfel’s Giovanni dominating everything and everyone. Terfel’s vocal talents are well known, and the range on display here is awesome, from the sotto voce word pointing in ‘La ci darem’ to a floor-shaking welter of tone in the Commendatore scenes. The acting is no less impressive; it is obvious at every turn that this Don blends animal magnetism and manipulative cruelty in equal measure. It’s so easy to see why the women fall for his sexual advances, yet his beating of Masetto in Act 2 is done with a near psychopathic glee that recalls Goodfellows. The quality of the all-round portrayal had the commentators reaching for superlatives, some going back to Siepi for a suitable comparison, and it’s hard to disagree.

He is well partnered by the Leporello of Ferruccio Furlanetto, an experienced actor who is already on Arthaus’s DVD of the same opera, where he teams up with the other great Don of our times, Thomas Allen. Furlanetto obviously relishes every subtlety without overacting, and the interplay (and identity swapping) between the two is one of the best things here.

The other men are good rather than outstanding. Paul Groves tries to drag Ottavio above the wimpish, but I can never hear his two famous arias without hearing the golden tones of Fritz Wunderlich, a cruel comparison. John Relyea is an engaging Masetto but I could have done with more vocal weight form Koptchak’s Commendatore.

The women acquit themselves well, though they are inevitably a foil for the men. Fleming’s rather breathy Anna is well characterised, and she certainly looks fabulous. Contrasting with her tone is the clean, razor-sharp intensity of Solveig Kringelborn and the youthful precision of Korean-born Hei-Kyung Hong’s vivacious Zerlina.

The staging does nothing to upset, and all moments of comedy are well handled. Some of the darker aspects of the score are glossed over – it’s possible to feel that Terfel would have gone a stage further with a more adventurous director, but this is certainly a production Mozart would have recognised and probably approved of. Levine conducts a direct, unfussy reading at sensible speeds, totally in keeping with the nature of the production, and the Met orchestra play with suppleness, grace and power.

Camerawork by director Gary Halvorsen is unobtrusive though fairly rudimentary, and picture and sound quality are excellent. Overall, it’s hard not to give this Don a warm welcome. It is not without competition, including the already-mentioned Arthaus Cologne production from 1991, but this has more-or-less everything you want for the library shelf and repeated viewings. For those irritated by modern psychological stagings, this set could well provide the perfect answer.

Tony Haywood

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