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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni, Dramma giocoso in two acts K. 527. Vienna version 1788
Don Giovanni, Simone Alberghini (baritone)
Leporello, Adrian Sampetrean (baritone)
Don Ottavio, Dmitry Korchak (tenor)
Masetto, Jiří Brückler (baritone)
Donna Anna, Irina Lungu, (soprano)
Donna Elvira, Katerina Knežíková (soprano)
Zerlina, Julia Novikova (soprano)
Commendatore Jan Štáva (bass)
Prague National Theatre Orchestra and Chorus/Plácido Domingo
Jiří Nekvasil (stage director)
Josef Svoboda (set designer)
Theodor Pištěk (costume designer)
Daniel Dvořák (lighting designer)
Brian Large (video director)
rec. live, Estates Theatre, Prague, 27 and 29 October 2017
16:9. Sound format: PCM Stereo, DTS 5.0
Booklet notes in English, French and German.
Subtitles in Italian (sung language), English, French, German, Korean and Japanese
C MAJOR DVD 745208 [182 mins]

Don Giovanni was famously premiered in this very theatre in 1787, and there is a unique frisson of seeing and hearing it there today. The main selling point for this film is Plácido Domingo’s appearance in the pit to conduct, ostensibly for the premiere’s 230th anniversary. However, I sniff a whiff of duplicity to their marketing strategy.

The box claims that Domingo “came up, as conductor and artistic director, with a unique Don Giovanni at the Estates Theatre” which surely implies that it was mounted specially for the occasion. In fact it was nothing of the kind. It’s the theatre’s current production of the opera, which I saw there in 2011, and they clearly only parachuted in Domingo for a few performances. Nothing wrong with that, of course, though I hope nobody is hoodwinked into thinking it was unique or new.

The production itself is pretty satisfying, if unexciting. It has a solidly traditional setting, with beautiful, if often two-dimensional sets, and the costumes are lovely, designed by the chap who won the costume Oscar for Amadeus. As such, it’s a jewel-box Don Giovanni for the jewel-box theatre in which it was premiered. Some viewers will find that right up their street and it will solve the issue for anyone who wants a straight production with no messing about. Undeniably, however, it’s pretty dramatically inert for this day and age, and you’ll find nothing in it to challenge preconceptions or raise questions.

The acting is about as wooden as the setting, and the singing isn’t much to get excited about. Some of the singers are winners of Domingo’s own Operalia competition, but that doesn’t necessarily lift them above the mediocre. Simone Alberghini is the only star name, but he sings with a nasal tone that is unendearing. None of the singers begin well and, though they grow into their parts as the opera progresses, Irina Lungu’s Anna remains uncomfortably squally throughout. Katerina Knežíková’s Elvira is more successful, as is Julia Novikova, though her voice is very big for Zerlina. Adrian Sampetrean and Jiří Brückler both bluster through their parts uncomfortably. Dmitry Korchak is a light-voiced but effective Ottavio, and Jan Štáva lacks sufficient presence as the Commendatore.

Domingo’s conducting is straightforward and safe, as you might expect from a singer whose chief priority must be to allow those on stage to get on with it unmolested. However, as if to emphasise his centrality to the film, the camera often cuts to the pit, sometimes even during numbers, which is distracting and unhelpful. The DVD sound is boxy and poorly captured, however, both in 2.0 and DTS, and there are even a few moments when the camera spends a second or two getting into the correct focus for the scene it is depicting. Unforgivably, it even looks away for the production’s most classic moment: the Don’s disappearance through a trapdoor in the final scene.

In short, there are better Don Giovannis out there. If you want a traditional production on DVD then go for Karajan’s 1984 Salzburg production; it’s Karajanesque through and through, but has a knockout cast and is, I think, very rewarding. More radical productions include Claus Guth, also at Salzburg, starring Christopher Maltman (review). A work like this is so strong that it can sustain interpretations from both ends of the scale and anything in between.

Simon Thompson
Previous review (Blu-ray): Robert Farr



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