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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni (1787)
Wojtek Drabowicz (baritone) - Don Giovanni; Anatoly Kocherga (bass) - Commendatore; Regina Schörg (soprano) - Donna Anna; Marcel Reijans (tenor) - Don Ottavio; Véronique Gens (soprano); Keanchul Youn (bass) - Leporello; Felipe Bou (bass) - Masetto; Marisa Martins (soprano) - Zerlina;
Chamber Choir of the Palau de la Música Catalana;
Orchestra Academy of the Gran Teatro del Liceu/Bertrand de Billy.
Director: Calixto Bieito.
rec. Gran Teatro del Liceu, 12, 17 December 2002.
OPUS ARTE OA 0921 D [2 DVDs: 156'00]

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I was left stunned in admiration when I saw Calixto Bieito's production of Don Giovanni at ENO in late September 2004 (see review) and I am no less impressed now that I have had time to digest the production at leisure on DVD.

The version used is the Prague score. One cannot but gasp in astonishment at Mozart's dramatic genius, and how – as Bieito points out through his production – every single one of the emotions Mozart explores is as relevant today as it was then. This relocation of incident requires - as anyone who reads the review of the ENO production will gather - a fair amount of explicit activity. The frequent swear-words in the Coliseum English version are of course jettisoned, but the visual antics (both implied and graphic sex, groping etc) are there for all to see. And the disco-dancing to Mozart's score just has to be experienced – especially when in Act 2 it is provided by a bunch of clockwork Barbie-dolls.

Bertrand de Billy is an experienced Mozartian; he recorded this opera for Arte Nova to considerable success: a November 2003 Bargain of the Month (see review). His brisk musicality is once more in evidence here – and with these visuals, this approach really pays dividends. The visceral reality makes the degradation of Act 2's setting all the more hard-hitting, the dénouement truly chilling. The very opening of the Overture positively blazes; it is clear this will not be an easy performance.

Billy's cast is without a weak link. Polish baritone Wojtek Drabowicz is a self-assured, swaggering Giovanni, capable of tenderness as well as overt lechery. His Act 1 Scene 3 duet with Zerlina, 'La ci darem', is particularly beautiful – although admittedly this is tenderness in the service of lechery. But nearly outclassing him in laddishness is Korean Kwanchul Youn's Leporello, a football hooligan in all but name – his pulling-up of his track-suit bottoms as he embarks on his 'Catalogue Aria' is fully convincing! And what a Catalogue Aria it is – he can sing as well as act. He seemed genuinely put out to be thrown out of the car while Don Giovanni and Donna Anna are quite obviously on the job – cars have windows, remember.

Regina Schörg is an imposing Anna, her scenes in Act 1 with Ottavio showing the care that went into casting. Marisa Martins' Zerlina not only disco-dances with the best of them - as a banner ironically proclaims, 'Zerlina and Masetto Forever!' - but she makes a more knowing than usual Zerlina; no paragon of virginal innocence here. The party itself is a burst of colour on the senses, full of outrageous disguises. Maybe the meanings of the 'Viva la liberta' passages are blunted at this point but in the context of Bieito's production it is a small price to pay.

One cannot emerge from this experience but uplifted. Giovanni's almost ritualistic repeated stabbing of the Commendatore in Act 2 - who of course cannot die as he's already dead - is typical of the whole. The same applies to the 'mirroring' stabbing of Giovanni right at the end by each cast member in turn. Anna it is that slits his throat, but what relish Leporello imparts to his own thrust!

Perhaps the best cast member - if a choice has to be made - is Véronique Gens' Elvira, who as the wronged woman tortures Giovanni mercilessly. Almost needless to say, she sings like an angel – but this angel has a bite – she pulls a gun on Giovanni at one point before binge-eating for her frayed nerves. One cannot but feel for the Masetto (Felipe Bou).

This is a wonderful set, and certainly my preferred modern-day Giovanni on DVD. It outclasses the Glyndebourne on NVC Arts 0630-14015-2 by a long, long way.

Colin Clarke


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