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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni (1787)
Simon Keenlyside (baritone) – Don Giovanni; Kyle Ketelsen (bass) – Leporello; Eric Halfvarson (bass) – Commendatore; Marina Poplavskaya (soprano) – Donna Anna; Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano) – Donna Elvira; Ramón Vargas (tenor) – Don Ottavio; Miah Persson (soprano) – Zerlina; Robert Gleadow (bass) – Masetto; The Royal Opera Chorus, The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. live, 8, 12 September 2008, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Stage Director: Francesca Zambello; Set & Costume Design: Maria Björnson; Lighting Design: Paul Pyant; Original Choreographer: Stephen Mear; Fight Director: William Hobbs; Associate Director & Revival Choreographer: Duncan Macfarland
Film Director: Robin Lough
Audio formats: LPCM Stereo; DTS Surround; Picture format: 16:9 anamorphic
OPUS ARTE OA1009D [2 DVD : 202:00]


Experience Classicsonline

During the overture the characters and their interpreters are presented against a backdrop of violent flames, almost all the characters showing stern or grim faces and we draw the conclusion that in this production hell is the unavoidable end from the outset and that librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte’s billing ‘dramma giocoso’ was more apt than Mozart’s plain ‘opera buffa’. No valid production of this work is played as downright ‘opera buffa’ however, since there is so much of serious ‘dramma’ as well as a fair share of the supernatural. It isn’t even correct to divide the characters in comic and serious categories. Leporello, who on the face of it is the typical stock buffo bass, shows such an array of honest human feelings that every viewer can identify with him. The role is broadly comic but with serious undertones. Don Giovanni, on the other hand, is neither fish nor fowl. What his true feelings are is almost impossible to decipher. He is cruel, egotistic, horny, scheming, false and when he talks of feelings he mostly mocks them in the next sentence. He is unfaithful to his conquests simply because it would be cruel to all the others if he adored just one. The only truth about him, which is confirmed in the final confrontation with the Stone Guest, is that he is no coward. He refuses to give in even though he knows the consequences. Masetto is a hothead, not too bright, I believe, and Don Ottavio is just a mealy-mouthed nobleman. One easily understands that Donna Anna in the epilogue wants another year to think things over and if there would be a sequel to the opera I am sure that she would walk out on him. She is a true tragic character, rather self-absorbed while Donna Elvira is more abstruse. She is a victim, suffering greatly from having been let down by Don Giovanni, maybe even a bit mad, but she also has zest and one doesn’t believe in her when she in the epilogue states that she is going to spend her remaining days in a convent. In this production Joyce DiDonato clearly shows that this is blether. The really warm and kind-hearted character – in this production – is Zerlina. She seems able and willing to care about each and everyone. She tends her Masetto lovingly when he has been beaten by Don Giovanni, she understands her female colleagues’ predicament, she bothers about Don Ottavio and she even finds time to comfort Leporello in the epilogue. In her white chemise she wanders about like a Florence Nightingale, supervising everyone’s wellbeing.

A very serious an little buffa-like concept in other words? Far from it. In fact this is, parallel with the serious elements, one of the most joyous productions of the opera I have seen. Stage director Francesca Zambello hasn’t missed an opportunity to make something enjoyable out of every comic point and there is a freshness and vitality about the whole performance that is infectious. There are oddities as well, but they pale in significance compared to the many strokes of genius that gild the production. Donna Elvira’s first entrance, being carried on a palanquin and armed with a large-bored rifle is a bit contradictive, and Don Giovanni is – in line with his strong ego – a bit too exhibitionistic, stripped to the waist most of act II and in the finale receiving his visitor(s) only dressed in red city-shorts. That he humiliates Donna Elvira, on her last attempt to convert him, by throwing red wine on her white dress is of course only a belated symbol of the real humiliation that had taken place before the opera started.

The cast have responded wholeheartedly to the direction and besides Simon Keenlyside, who has become one of the leading exponents of the title role, American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen makes a superb Leporello. The mercurial and charming Miah Persson is the Zerlina to the life and Joyce DiDonato is a wholly believable Donna Elvira. All four are also vocally on top and Ms DiDonato is a wonder of vocal beauty and expressivity. But there isn’t a weak member in the cast, even though the monumental Eric Halfvarson no longer is ideally steady. Ramon Vargas may not be the liveliest of actors – on the other hand: what is there to do with this stuffed shirt? – but he delivers his two arias with elegance and style and Il mio tesoro is superbly sung.

Sir Charles Mackerras is a renowned Mozartean and he paces the performance to perfection. The video direction is cleverly observant and when something extraordinary happens the cameras are there.

All in all a fresh and vital performance – far superior as a production to the two most recent Don Giovanni DVDs that have come my way: Ingo Metzmacher and Franz Welzer-Möst, the latter also featuring Simon Keenlyside – and the singing is a pleasure throughout.

Göran Forsling 



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