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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Don Giovanni (1787)
Simon Keenlyside (baritone) – Don Giovanni; Alfred Muff (bass) – Il Commendatore; Eva Mei (soprano) – Donna Anna; Piotr Beczala (tenor) – Don Ottavio; Malin Hartelius (soprano) – Donna Elvira; Anton Scharinger (bass-baritone) – Leporello; Reinhard Mayr (bass) – Masetto; Martina Janková (soprano) – Zerlina
Chor des Opernhauses Zürich, Orchester der Oper Zürich/Franz Welser-Möst
Director: Sven-Eric Bechtoff; Set Designer: Rolf Glittenberg; Costume Designer: Marianne Glittenberg; Lighting Designer: Jürgen Hoffmann; Choreographer: Stefano Giannetti
Directed for TV and Video by Felix Breisach
rec. live 14, 16 and 18 May 2006
Colour NTSC System 16:9; Audio Content: LPCM Stereo; Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround; DTS 5.1 Surround
EMI CLASSICS 5009709 [2 DVDs: 185:00]

Wherein lies the greatest difference between a live opera performance and buying a production on DVD? Of course the size of the stage picture and the atmosphere – of being there – but also the different ways of consuming. Mostly, I believe, we go to the opera house and see a performance once, while we buy DVDs to return to. Or maybe we don’t. Financially speaking a visit to the opera house, even when we have the house next door, is far more expensive than buying the production on DVD, so maybe we buy and consume only once and if that’s the case it doesn’t matter if we like it or not. We can throw it away or give it away or just store it somewhere, where we are not likely to find it again.
I write this preamble since this is a production that gave me some pleasure to watch but I don’t believe I will ever want to return to it. Well, there are certain numbers I would like to listen to, because they are well sung and in that case I have to take EMI to task for not providing a tracklist so I can use it in my CD player.
Let’s come to the point: what was it I didn’t like? The production is of that modernistic kind with rather abstract stage pictures, modern costumes and sometimes quite absurd things happening that have little relevance or connection with the text. When the curtain raises in the middle of the overture all the characters are on stage in motionless postures and there are other characters there too. Sometimes mime artists in the background illustrate what is being told in the arias, for instance when Donna Anna tells Don Ottavio about Don Giovanni’s attempt to seduce her just before the play starts. Props are sparse: some sofas, in the party scene towards the end of the first act a curved bar. I have to admit that the production has its humorous points and that the director has created sharply etched characters, sometimes surprisingly so. Don Giovanni himself, brilliantly acted by Simon Keenlyside, isn’t only the callous, scheming and callous libertine – he is also soft and caring – or is that just a trick too? In the first scene, when he has stabbed Il Commendatore, he takes care of the dying man, dabs his forehead and seems honestly sorry. Likewise at the end of the act, after having tried to rape Zerlina off-stage he is so considerate. There are innumerable ways of portraying this enigmatic character and I am not sorry to have seen this production but I don’t believe I will want to revisit it very often.
Musically it is also an uneven performance. Franz Welser-Möst can be a quirky conductor and here he leads his forces in a reading that is curiously stodgy and heavy-footed. At least the first act is almost unbearably sluggish. The overture is dark and forbidding, Leporello’s aria at the opening of the act slow and with heavy ritardandi – just as his catalogue aria a little later. The point is of course to give Anton Scharinger time to be expressive, but this is also supposed to be a virtuoso aria. The Don Giovanni – Zerlina duet La ci darem la mano is also extremely slow. Thank God that Simon Keenlyside is allowed to sing his Champagne aria at something similar to the normal tempo. The second act fares better and at least partly saves the evening.
There is some highly inventive and entertaining choreography and the playing and singing of chorus and orchestra is up to expected standards. I have already mentioned Simon Keenlyside’s detailed Don Giovanni and his singing I assured and beautiful with his second act serenade probably the pick of the whole performance. Anton Scharinger is a splendid actor and makes Leporello very human. Unfortunately his singing isn’t of the same calibre - he sounds worn and dry. Reinhard Mayr is a constantly jealous and hectoring Masetto and Alfred Muff is a physically powerful Commendatore who is so furious that one suspects that he is going to win the duel with Don Giovanni. As Don Ottavio Piotr Beczala sings well and he embellishes the reprise of Dalla sua pace quite liberally.
Eva Mei is a vibrant Donna Anna, a little too heavy at times but her second act aria Non mi dir is movingly sung. Both as actor and singer Malin Hartelius is a superb Donna Elvira and Martina Janková is a charming Zerlina, innocent looking and with pure, crystalline tone.
To sum things up: this production has its points if one can accept the abstract setting, the cast are good actors and much of the singing is good but Welser-Möst’s heavy-handed conducting lets it down seriously.
Göran Forsling


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