Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni - Dramma giocoso in two acts, K527 (Vienna version) (1788)
Don Giovanni - Gerald Finley (baritone); Leporello - Luca Pisaroni (baritone); Don Ottavio - William Burden (tenor); Masetto - Guido Loconsolo (baritone); Anna - Anna Samuil (soprano); Elvira - Kate Royal (soprano); Zerlina - Anna Virovlansky (soprano); Commendatore – Brindley Sherratt (bass)
Glyndebourne Chorus
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Vladimir Jurowski
Director: Jonathan Kent
Designer: Paul Brown
Video Director: Peter Maniura
rec. 2010
LPCM Stereo, DTS 5.1 surround. Picture format: Colour. NTSC. Filmed in HD 50i 16.9
Booklet notes in English, French, German.
Subtitles in Italian (sung language), English, French, German, Spanish
EMI CLASSICS DVD 0 72017 9 [2 DVDs: 194:00]

In 1786, settled in Vienna, Mozart commenced collaboration with Da Ponte to realise the immensely popular Le Nozze de Figaro with its taut plot and integrated music. The work was immediately widely acclaimed and was later produced in Prague with unprecedented success. Bondi, the Manager of The Prague Opera, keen to capitalise on Mozart’s popularity in the city, commissioned a new opera from him for production the following autumn. Mozart returned to Vienna and sought the cooperation of Da Ponte for the provision of a suitable libretto. Although Da Ponte was working on librettos for two other composers he agreed to set the verses of Don Giovanni for Mozart, perhaps using some existing material.

Don Giovanni was well received in Prague. However, for a production in Vienna the following year there were problems. The tenor couldn’t sing the Act 2 aria Il Mio Tesoro and Mozart substituted the aria Dalla sua pace, better suited to his abilities, in Act 1 (DVD 1 CH.12). The role of Elvira was to be sung in Vienna by a protégée of Salieri; she demanded a scena for herself and Mozart added the accompanied recitative In quali eccessi and aria Mi Tradi in act 2 (DVD 2 CH.10). Common performance and recorded custom is to incorporate the later Vienna additions into the Prague original. This practice is not followed here with the Vienna original version given. This includes an excessive amount of binding of Leporello by Zerlina (DVD 2 CH.9) who in this production then whets a knife and gives his face a close part shave!

A performance of Don Giovanni can sometimes seem a hotch-potch. Certainly, dramatic cohesion is lost without swift scene changes. The set in act 1 of this performance largely meets that requirement, consisting of an elegant house that swivels and opens for the various scenes. It reminded me of Peter Hall’s admired 1970s staging in its quick facility in this respect. Regrettably, the act 2 set is less satisfactory with a steep rake, the hydraulics clearly in view, and in this film presentation the mid-shots made little sense of it whilst also inhibiting the intimacy of some of the interactions, public and private. The supper scene becomes silly as Don Giovanni, for no apparent reason, tips over his meal table to uncover the Commendatore below it.

The costumes are late 1950s. The slender Zerlina of Anna Virovlansky looks very attractive in her wedding dress with its wide flared skirt, doubtless, if my memory serves me right, with many starched underskirts giving the flare. Donna Elvira appears at one point in gabardine and wrap-around shades - I thought the latter came in later! Guido Loconsolo looks suitably oafish; a Teddy Boy suit would have better fitted the period whilst it does allow Don Giovanni to look particularly suave in white jacket at one point. Leporello carries a camera to record his master’s goings-on, a Leica perhaps, but I never managed to own one of those. Don Giovanni is masked as he climbs out of Donna Anna’s window and down the seemingly vertical wall. Seems he could be in danger of a fall; doesn’t health and safety apply to opera singers? As Donna Anna leans after him the danger of falling comes more from her capacious bosoms!

The main trouble with Gerald Findlay’s Don Giovanni is that he plays and sings the perfect suave seducer. On a recording of separate arias, such even-toned mellifluous and graceful singing might be welcome. But Findlay seems to forget that Giovanni is a serial rapist not a suave seducer. Giovanni is on a par with Baron Scarpia in Tosca, a thoroughly nasty character, a fact reinforced by his particularly bloody bludgeoning of the Commendatore with a brick! Findlay altogether lacks that demonic and sadistic aspect in his portrayal. Thomas Allen conveyed this aspect so well in his 1975 Glyndebourne performances, and subsequently at Covent Garden and La Scala, both caught on DVD, and elsewhere. This lack does give Luca Pisaroni an open field to create the ideal vocal and interpreted realisation of Leporello, Giovanni’s much put-upon servant. His baritone is ideal for the role which he plays and sings to near perfection, his tone, vocal acting and range of expression reflecting the many situations the poor guy finds himself in. His Catalogue Aria, carrying two volumes no less, one of which ends on the floor, is as good as it gets (CH.5). A well portrayed and sung performance of Anna’s something of a wimp suitor, Don Ottavio, by William Burden made me regret the Vienna version does not allow for both his arias. His singing of his sole aria Dalla sua pace (CH.12) is well shaped and tonally secure, whilst his acting and singing as an ardent, somewhat elderly solicitous suitor, in the other scenes is good. His voice and acted demeanour is ideal for a role that often is difficult to bring off. Guido Loconsolo sings and plays the oafish Masetto with firm tone and good expression whilst Brindley Sherratt is a suitably sonorous Commendatore.

If Anna Virovlansky looks gorgeous as Zerlina, her singing and acting of the role match her appearance; important in this version, with Zerlina’s added involvements. Her tone and phrasing allow ideal vocal acting in her solos and more particularly in Zerlina’s interactions with Giovanni (CH.8) and whilst having to grovel to Masetto and promise him balm for his wounds (DVD 2 CH.5). Anna Samuil is a fuller-toned Donna Anna than we often hear. If her acting is occasionally a little wooden, her singing is always secure and with good expression as in Non mi dir as Anna recognises her cruelty to Ottavio in deferring their marriage (DVD 2 CH.13). Regrettably the Donna Elvira, the infatuate who is spurned by Giovanni, is less well sung, even over-parted, in the voice and singing of Kate Royal in the role. She has neither the vocal strength nor variety of tonal colour for the part. This is particularly evident in Mi tradi (DVD 2 CH.10), an addition for Vienna but which is usually included in most modern performances as is the tenor’s original aria Il mio Tesoro. Along with the staging of act two, Kate Royal’s singing is, I regret to write, a serious drawback to this performance.

Vladimir Jurowski drives the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment rather too briskly at times. One wishes for the likes of Haitink for this music, but certainly not in the 1995 staging directed by Deborah Warner in the abysmal sets designed by Hildegard Bechtler (see review). Since then there has been another less than ideal staging of this opera. How Glyndebourne misses the steady hand of Peter Hall in this once famous Mozart House. At least their poorly conceived modernist neo-Regietheater productions, that have become something of a pattern since his departure, are not subsidised by the Arts Council who are currently (2011) savaging the grants to British regional opera companies.

The video director does what he can to minimise the impact of the act two set. But he cannot disguise the inappropriateness of the rake and the poor impact of the scene where the Commendatore comes to Don Giovanni’s supper. The fireball that descends to set the scene ablaze, literally, at the end of act one could have been better used here I suggest. The picture quality on two discs is good whilst the sound has no particular distinction.

The booklet has an essay titled The strangest opera ever written? The author claims a tentative relationship with Shakespeare’s Hamlet before concentrating on Mozart and Da Ponte’s creations. There is a good chapter-related synopsis, but no listing with times and clear distinction between recitative and aria. It includes the names of the arias as is normal. The essay and synopsis is given in English, German and French.

Robert J Farr

Mozart’s opera deserves a better staging than this and a singer in the title role who recognises that Don Giovanni is a nasty piece of work not merely a suave womaniser.