Don Giovanni (1787)
Don Giovanni - Christopher Maltman (baritone); Leporello - Erwin
Schrott (bass-baritone); Donna Anna - Annette Dasch (soprano); Donna
Elvira - Dorothea Röschmann (soprano); Commendatore - Anatoli Kotscherga
(bass); Don Ottavio - Matthew Polenzani (tenor); Zerlina - Ekaterina
Siurina (soprano); Masetto - Alex Esposito (bass);
Vienna State Opera Chorus;
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bertrand de Billy
Director: Claus Guth
rec. Salzburg Festival, Haus für Mozart, July-August, 2008. DTS.
Format NTSC 16:9. PCM Stereo, Dolby 5.0 and DTS 5.0. Region code
Subtitles in Italian (original), English, French, German and Spanish.
UNITEL CLASSICA EUROARTS 2072548
[2 DVDs: 177:00]
I was hardly surprised to find second-hand copies of this 2008
Salzburg Festival recording already on offer on the web at knock-down
prices: you will almost certainly judge it either a masterpiece
or an outrageous failure. It’s far more controversial than Bertrand
de Billy’s earlier DVD recording at the Gran Teatro del Liceo,
which so much impressed Colin Clarke in 2006 (Opus Arte OA0921D,
Recording of the Month – see review.)
It wasn’t well-received at Salzburg and I was prepared to dislike
it, with Claus Guth’s reputation for gloomy productions. Wasn’t
Don Giovanni supposed to be a dramma giocoso?
In the event, I was very pleasantly surprised in many respects.
I’ve seen the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s contribution described
as mediocre – apparently most of the booing was directed at
Bertrand de Billy and the orchestra – but they give a most satisfactory
account of the overture. I’m not sure how many evenings’ performances
were combined to obtain the best, but I was never aware of any
inadequacies on their part and there was, indeed, no booing
at the end of the DVD. I’m sure, however, that there’s always
an element of ‘we can play Mozart in our sleep’ for the Vienna
Phil, as there is with the music of the Strauss family on New
As the overture progresses we see a cameo of the fight to come,
between the Commendatore and the Don – in the Christian Schmidt
designed pine forest which forms the setting of this performance.
Giovanni is fatally wounded by a gunshot from the Commendatore
as the latter lies dying from Don Giovanni’s blow. Thus it transpires
that the opera covers the last three hours of the profligate’s
life, with his life-blood visibly oozing away. It’s a good idea,
but it doesn’t really work. Christopher Maltman’s Don is all
too alive, both physically – not surprisingly, his impressive
physique is commented on in the booklet – and in vocal terms.
Occasional spasms of pain are seen to cross his face and he
almost faints as early as Leporello’s catalogue aria, but he
soon comes back to life as he invites the wedding party to his
As Leporello sings Notte e giorno faticar, his bare-chested
master is at his work of seduction in the background with Donna
Anna, who doesn’t seem to be entirely seriously resisting him.
So far, so good – the woods, which play such a large part in
the Germanic psyche, may well seem a more likely setting for
the attempted seduction than the usual opening in front of the
Commendatore’s house in Seville. There’s plenty of realism too
– when Donna Anna sings of avenging her father’s blood, there
it is on her hands – and soon it’s smeared on Don Ottavio, too.
There’s plenty of blood around in the next scene as well, as
Leporello tries to tend to his wounded and bleeding master –
accompanied by drug-shooting. There’s more of this later, with
beer cans and joints being handed around to Zerlina and Masetto,
though hardly to the extent suggested by one reviewer of the
original production, who typified the concept of the Don as
an anaemic fixer and denier, anämischer Fixer und Neinsager,
living in the forest solely to smoke pot and swill beer with
Leporello – fiffen, fixen und saufen. Fin ch’han del
vino, usually dubbed the ‘champagne aria’, becomes a lager-can
The scene now revolves to reveal Donna Elvira waiting in a corrugated-iron
bus-shelter. Giovanni climbs on the roof as Leporello sings
his catalogue aria. If Maltman’s Giovanni is physically impressive,
Leporello is played by Erwin Schrott in a suitably picaresque
manner, singing the catalogue aria in a throwaway manner which
proves oddly effective.
Giovanni’s seduction aria Là ci darem la mano was the
very first excerpt from this opera that I heard – sung on a
10-inch 78 rpm disc in German (Reich mir die Hand, mein Leben)
so it’s become a crucial point for me in judging performances
of the whole opera. I’m happy to say that Maltman and Ekaterina
Siurina sing the duet to perfection. I’m not too sure about
the subsequent arrival of Don Ottavio and Donna Anna on the
scene by car – with the bonnet up and urgent calls to the repair
Some aspects of the romp-in-the-woods scenery don’t work at
all: it’s hard to imagine Giovanni summoning Donna Elvira’s
servant from beneath her window on such a set – where is the
finestra to which he bids her come? – and the final banquet
has to take place largely in the drink-and-drug-induced imaginations
of Giovanni and Leporello. There’s no Commendatore statue –
merely a storm-broken tree – and the banquet takes place with
the table cloth over a tree stump. Giovanni wears a Burger King
paper crown and the fine wine which he praises again becomes
a can of lager.
This Donna Anna takes off her shoes and outer garments and walks
calmly into the woods with pistol in hand, evidently determined
to end it all, with Ottavio undecided what to do about it, which
I felt out of sync with the more positive view of his role projected
earlier in the production. It wouldn’t work at all, of course,
if the final ensemble had not been omitted.
All this is less annoying, however, than some of the distracting
stage business that has appeared on some more recent opera DVDs.
The same post brought me another Euroarts production which I
suspect will be stronger medicine to swallow: the Stuttgart
Opera’s Wagner Ring cycle, well conducted by Lothar Zagrosek,
with a generally good team of singers, but controversially directed
by four different producers. Act I of Siegfried set in
the kitchen of Mime’s 1960s semi, a des res complete with forge
in the corner, every Hausfrau’s dream, visited by a Wanderer
with a very natty pair of designer shades instead of the usual
The singing is pretty good from all concerned. Excellently as
Annette Dasch sings the part of Donna Anna, her diction is not
always ideal. I see that Svetlana Doneva stepped into the role
on certain nights when Dasch was indisposed, which perhaps explains
why her diction was not of the best on the nights when she did
perform. Perhaps, too, it explains the slight sense of occasional
strain at the top of her register and volume. I don’t want to
make too much of my reservations: like all the other female
singers, her performance went a long way to make up for some
of the oddities of the production.
Dorothea Röschmann as Elvira does even more to win me over.
Even those who detested the production mostly agreed that the
singing made up for a great deal.
The men, too, sing extremely well. I’ve already mentioned the
extent to which Maltman’s voice is as powerful as his physique,
but he can do soft and gentle, too, when it’s appropriate. Schrott
almost steals the show from him in acting terms and his singing
is also one of the highlights of the performance – just don’t
expect the mellifluous tones of Bryn Terfel. Even when fooling
around, both sing very well. When master and servant exchange
clothes and roles in Act II, Maltman effectively mimics Schrott’s
Matthew Polenzani largely rescues Don Ottavio from the role
of wimp to which he is often reduced, with Della sua pace
receiving a round of applause, and Alex Esposito makes a convincing
Masetto, vocally and dramatically, in a role which is not always
easy to bring off. Inevitably, though, even he is down-staged
and out-sung by Siurina as Zerlina and Polenzani is also overshadowed
by Dasch’s Donna Anna. Anatoli Kotscherga sounds suitably commanding
as the Commendatore.
Like the 1788 Viennese libretto, this production omits the final
ensemble – after Giovanni’s descent to Hell, the rest is silence.
Though this flies in the face of almost unanimous modern practice,
I found it extremely effective.
The recording sounds good, even when played via television speakers
– it’s even better when played through an AV receiver and large
The picture quality is very good throughout, even on DVD. With
up-scaling from my player, I can’t imagine that the higher density
version Blu-ray is much of an improvement on this occasion,
apart from the kind of picture ‘noise’ from the grille of the
car, which the newer format usually corrects. My copy suffered
from one brief dropout near the end of the second DVD, which
was a trifle annoying but not disastrous. I note that the Blu-ray
is currently less expensive than the DVD from one supplier.
As I close this review, I see that this set has already received
a 5-star accolade from one reviewer. I wouldn’t go that far
– I’d be hovering between 3 and 4 – but I shall keep these DVDs.
They won’t be my first choice, but they will do very nicely
as a supplement to Riccardo Muti’s 1999 DVD recording (TDK 205545
or DVW-OPDG or Arthaus 107101) and the classic audio recordings
of Josef Krips (Decca Heritage 478 1389) and Carlo Maria Giulini
(recently reissued on EMI Opera 9667992), both very reasonably