Mozart Giovanni OABD7295D
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni, dramma giocoso in two acts, K527 (1787-1788)
Erwin Schrott (Don Giovanni), Roberto Tagliavini (Leporello), Malin Bystr÷m (Donna Anna), Myrt˛ Papatanasiu (Donna Elvira), Daniel Behle (Don Ottavio), Louise Alder (Zerlina), Leon Košavic (Masetto), Petros Magoulas (Commendatore)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Hartmut Haenchen
Kasper Holten (stage direction)
rec. live, 2019, Royal Opera House, London, UK
Reviewed in surround sound
OPUS ARTE Blu-ray OABD7295D [187]

I saw this production’s first run in 2014 and its first revival, though not this 2019 third revival. It is a very fine production, Kasper Holten’s best achievement of his time at the Royal Opera House, and the filming does it justice. It is not often that the set design is the most noteworthy aspect of an operatic production, but that is the case here. Centre stage throughout is designer Es Devlin’s substantial two-storied building, which rotates to show various doors, stairways, rooms and balconies. (M.C. Escher’s famous dimension-defying staircases in his lithograph Relativity gives the idea; it appeared in the Royal Opera’s programme book.) Plenty of spaces, then, for each scene to have a plausible location for solos, duets or larger ensembles, with the street being the space in front. There also are places of concealment for the essential opera buffa activity of lurking and overhearing, and there is room for all the busy action at the end of Act One.

The set also has surfaces for video designer Luke Halls’s projections. They illuminate a scene (in both senses) or display text, such as Leporello’s “catalogue aria” listing his master’s many conquests, an effect anticipated during the overture. Kasper Holten’s direction is persuasive and his ideas suggestive. Zerlina rips her bodice when summoning help, and at times anonymous pallid female presences – presumably former loves – float about, suggesting that the Commendatore is not the only revenant who haunts the Don. Don Giovanni is smartly suited in blue, and Leporello’s thick grey woollen suit suggests his master pays him well enough. Don Ottavio favours evening attire, while Donna Anna’s pink dress acquires curious black splodges during the performance – too much involvement with Don Giovanni can stain a reputation, perhaps.

Erwin Schrott gives a very fine performance as Don Giovanni, especially in relation to Leporello – oddly enough the key relationship in this opera of weak, imagined and imperilled relationships. His “champagne aria”, despite conductor Hartmut Haenchen’s ponderous tempo, is suitably effervescent, but his seduction of Zerlina could be more honeyed. Louise Alder as Zerlina gives us the most beautiful female singing in this performance. Malyn Bystr÷m’s Donna Anna is quite well sung and acted, even if she never quite sounds vocally comfortable in the most passionate outbursts. Myrt˛ Papatanasiu’s Donna Elvira is mostly effective but at times she too sounds taxed by her difficult role. One wonders what singers Mozart must have had and what a vocal coach he must have been! Roberto Tagliavini’s Leporello deploys his appealing voice to create a real character, and his timbre is a good contrast to that of his aristocratic master. Leon Košavic’s Masetto sings well, at least in suggesting class resentment and justified grievance. Daniel Behle’s Ottavio sings with particularly good line and tone in his tenderly lyrical music. Because this is the familiar mix of the Prague and Vienna versions, he gets both his Prague original solo and the Viennese one designed to replace it. Petros Magoulas’s Commendatore is vocally commanding when alive and even more so when dead.

Hartmut Haenchen’s old-school conducting, with broad tempi and plenty of weight, suits the conception of a demonic and doomed Don. The set blackens as dark forces gradually summon him to the infernal reckoning which he challenges to the last. This is essentially how the 19th century saw the opera, and to that end Holten jettisons much of the scena ultima, the buffo ending when the survivors tell us what they each will do next and point the moral of the tale. In the first version I saw at Covent Garden, Holten left out the entire last scene. Here in 2019 the solos are all excised, and we go straight from Giovanni’s final line – he does not exit – to the coda sung by the (unseen) ensemble. The full scene was the original (and traditional) idea of Mozart and Da Ponte (not Schikaneder to whom the disc’s booklet attributes the libretto). It might have been removed for the later Vienna premiere – the evidence is mixed – and was often left out in 19th century productions, which favoured the Romantic view over the buffo original. But we lose some fine music by Mozart, and the important retrospective demonstration that these characters’ lives have emptied out without the Don to love, accuse, resent and pursue. The omission of most of the scena ultima is a distortion. It certainly means this should not be anyone’s only recorded version of the opera. Yet although the casting is rather mixed in this revival, the production and especially its setting is very well worth seeing, and is superbly filmed, with good surround sound. The booklet is very slender, just production photos and a one-page plot synopsis. The extras are a diverting couple of short films, one of the director, conductor, designer and cast talking about the work and its setting, and one of Erwin Schrott preparing the title role.

Roy Westbrook

Further details

Set Designer: Es Devlin
Costume Designer: Anja Vang Kragh
Lighting Designer: Bruno Poet
Video Director: Luke Halls
Directed for the screen by Jonathan Haswell
Revival directed by Jack Furness

Sung in Italian
Subtitles: English, Italian, French, German, Korean, Japanese
Booklet with production photos and short synopsis in English

Picture: 1080i/16:9; Sound: PCM Stereo/DTS-HD MA 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Timing: opera 178 mins, extras 9 mins