Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni - Dramma giocoso in two acts, K527 (Vienna version) (1788)
Don Giovanni - Benjamin Luxon (baritone); Leporello - Stafford Dean (bass); Donna Anna - Horiana Branisteanu (soprano); Donna Elvira - Rachel Yakar (soprano); Don Ottavio - Leo Geoke (tenor); Zerlina - Elizabeth Gale (soprano); Masetto - John Rawnsley (baritone); Commendatore - Pierre Thau (bass)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
Director: Peter Hall
Stage Designer: John Bury
rec. Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 1977
Video Director: Dave Heather
DVD Format: DVD 9/NTSC. Sound Format: PCM Stereo. Picture Format: 4:3
Subtitle Languages: Italian (original language), English, German, French and Spanish
Booklet notes in English, French and German
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 102 312 
In 1786, settled in Vienna, Mozart commenced a collaboration with the poet Da Ponte. It was 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 (CH.18). The role of Elvira was to be sung in Vienna by a protégée of Salieri who demanded a scena for herself. Mozart obliged, adding the accompanied recitative In quali eccessi and aria Mi Tradi in act 2 (CH.42). Common performance and recorded custom is to incorporate the later Vienna additions into the Prague original. The Glyndebourne production of 2010 incorporated other material involving Zerlina and Masetto not commonly used.
I well remember this 1977 production from when it toured to Manchester in October that year. It was already seen as a classic and its strengths have remained in my mind ever since, as does the cost of £2 for my front row balcony seat. Matters of perspective about that price need to be stated. First, it was up from eighty pence for the same seat for Figaro four years before, second, it must be related to contemporary wages and salary. Inflation was raging. Two years before, the railwaymen had gone on strike as they considered the twenty five per cent offered inadequate! Nowadays the cost of a comparative seat for the last provincial Don Giovanni I saw a couple of years back, a cheap and shoddy staging full of gimmicks, was £45. Meanwhile, if in the same occupation to that time, my salary for a job where I had responsibility for 120 staff, half professionals, would be a twelve to thirteen times what it was when my ticket cost £2.
Peter Hall's direction clarifies the plot whilst John Bury's sets are realistic if rather over dark, particularly in act two. Inevitably my mind goes back to the performance I saw in respect of the singers with only Elisabeth Gale’s Zerlina being common. The big difference was Thomas Allen in the title role, an interpretation that I have never seen bettered since. His Don was a real sadist and demonic in a manner that Ben Luxon does not match here. Luxon’s acted and sung interpretation is altogether too suave without being sufficiently threatening as a seducer-cum-rapist. Stafford Dean’s refulgent bass tones and rolling eyes bring Leporello to life. Only Geraint Evans, of those I have seen in the role, matches his characterisation. Although very different in their voices and interpretations, both were distinctive and valid. As Ottavio, Leo Geoke is not even a wimp, just a cipher although he does manage a phrase or two of mellifluous tone although not nearly enough for me in his act two aria (CH.41). John Rawnsley sings well as Masetto although he could have made more of his renowned acting opportunities as Zerlina offers her balm. Pierre Thau's Commendatore is suitably cavernous of tone and plays his part in the final scene as the Don faces the fires of hell; a particularly strong part of the staging and something of a coup de théâtre (CHs.47-49).
Of the ladies, Horiana Branisteanu is a full-toned Anna and plays the role of the ultimate austere virgin in facial expression, vocal tone and costume; no way would her Anna have been complicit in Giovanni being in her room. Her voice lacks the ultimate ideal flexibility for the role but is sufficiently full to give her and the director’s interpretation validity. I preferred my Rosalind Plowright to Rachel Yakar in this performance. The latter acts well enough but lacks fire in her vocal belly to give Elvira’s varied emotions full value. Elisabeth Gale is adequate as Zerlina. I have seen and heard the role better portrayed many times since.
On the rostrum, Bernard Haitink’s Mozart would gain more over the coming years, particularly when he had been at helm at Glyndebourne for a year or two and was more comfortable in the idiom and the theatre and its traditions.
The production was sponsored by Imperial Tobacco and filmed for Southern Television and seen on ITV. Technical limitations, particularly of lighting, are evident whilst the video director cannot resist the gimmick of singing faces being superimposed in some scenes. In that sense it is more a film than a record of the production as such.
Robert J Farr
Brings back memories but competition is such that limitations leave it as an outsider.
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