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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni – dramma giocoso in two acts (1787)
Don Giovanni – Carlos Alvarez (baritone), Il Commendatore – Rafał Siwek (bass), Donna Anna – Irina Lungu (soprano), Don Ottavio – Samir Pirgu (Tenor), Donna Elvira – Maria José Siri (soprano), Leporello – Alex Esposito (bass-baritone), Masetto – Christian Senn (baritone), Zerlina – Natalia Roman (soprano)
Arena di Verona Chorus, Arena di Verona Orchestra / Stefano Montanari
Franco Zeffirelli (direction, sets), Maurizio Millenotti (costumes), Paolo Mazzon (lighting), Maria Grazia Garofoli (choreography)
rec. July 2015, Arena di Verona, Italy
Sung in Italian with subtitles in English, German, French, Korean, Japanese.
Filmed in High Definition. Picture: 1080i/16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen, Sound: LPCM Stereo/ DTS-HD MA 5.1, Region code: A,B,C.
C MAJOR Blu-ray 751904 [187 mins]

The prospect of a Mozart opera performed in the massive setting of the Arena di Verona certainly makes one think of the word “curiosity”. After seeing and hearing this disc, I have not changed my mind. The musical side of things is constantly challenged by the distances in the open-air setting. It is also necessary to mike the singers closely, and that does little to change the impression that everyone is struggling. There are frequent instances of ragged ensemble in both the orchestra and the soloists. The microphones used in this recording place each voice under an unnecessarily harsh spotlight. That is then mixed with a powerful echo, part of the natural acoustic of the Roman amphitheater. The talent involved here is such that I would hope to encounter many of these performances again under better conditions. It would be unfair to judge the singing of the principals in these circumstances, so I choose to confine myself to commenting on the production rather than the musical merits of this disc.

Franco Zeffirelli is a greatly honoured name in the opera world, as well as theater and cinema. I first encountered his production of Don Giovanni in New York in the 1990s. His concept of the characters and the stage setting has remained pretty much identical. The sets have grown in stature and scope, as one would expect in Verona, but it all looks identical to me. It was always an eye-filling show. The sense of being in 17th century Seville is quite powerful. The set is reminiscent of the Seville’s great Plaza de Espana. The director also brings plenty of insight into the character development of each of the principals. I disagree with his concept of the title role: Don Giovanni as a rather unkempt force of nature unto himself. It lacks the element of charm which would explain his hold over so many people. I found that personal charm was absent in the New York production, and it remains so here. The costuming is truly beautiful and appropriate for soloists, chorus and extras.

Carlos Alvarez gives us his all and tries to do what he can to bring the Don to life. Sadly, he is working against Zeffirelli’s vision which unfortunately tends to win out. Alex Esposito is the handsome and utterly charming Leporello. Rarely have I been so aware of the strain on Leporello, attached as he is to such a master. Irina Lungu as Donna Anna and Samir Pirgu as Don Ottavio, for once both actually resemble Spanish nobility. Miss Lungu gives a moving demonstration of Anna’s growing desperation and frustration at the many traps she faces along her journey. Mr Pirgu represents the stiff patrician very well. Maria Josť Siri is a delightful Elvira. She completely abandons herself in every aspect of her role. Her comic timing and wounded pride are splendidly realized. As Zerlina we have Natalia Roman’s wide eyed, star-struck impersonation. She brings earthy life to the Don’s intended conquest. Christian Senn makes a substantial impression as Masetto. Rafał Siwek as the Commendatore seems a bit dominated by his stone costume and by his positioning on the vast stage of the Arena. The audience of 15,000 really seem to enjoy what they are offered here.

The picture quality of this Blu-ray disc is excellent. There is a bonus: a documentary which interviews most of the principal singers and conductor Stefano Montanari about their approach to the music and their respective roles.

A very engaging production but Mozart’s exquisite musical textures are buried by the vast spaces of the Arena.

Mike Parr

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