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Mozart: Don Giovanni

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Simon Keenlyside, Kyle Ketelson, Eric Hallvarson, Marina Poplavaskaya, Joyce DiDonato, Ramon Vargas, Miah Persson, and Robert Glendow star in this Royal Opera production of the Mozart opera conducted by Charles Mackerras on 2 DVDs.

Review

For this opera to succeed in all its moral, emotional, and rhetorical complexity, it needs a Don Giovanni who's sufficiently appealing that we feel at least some ambivalence toward him. Otherwise, Zerlina's attraction to him, much less Elvira's attempt to redeem him even at the end, makes no sense. That need is especially pressing when we have an Elvira as strong and spirited as Joyce DiDonato (no discarded dishrag here) and when Masetto is shorn of his bumptious goofiness (as he is when portrayed by Robert Gleadow). The Don's fundamental charisma, unfortunately, is singularly absent from this production, especially when seen close up on video, where every grimace registers more forcefully than it would from back in the hall.

Granted, Simon Keenlyside is an experienced exponent of the role; but his approach seems to have changed over the years. Ralph V. Lucano found him "a gentleman" on the Abbado recording (22: 3), while Raymond Tuttle found him rather neutral in his 2006 Zurich account (31:5). Here he's gone completely over to the dark side: from his sadistic torment of the dying Commendatore (he glares maliciously into his eyes, and then gives him a mocking kiss), we know we are watching a sociopath, a man driven not by hedonistic enthusiasm but by an undisguised and unquenchable desire to cause pain. There's little fizz in "Fin ch'han dal vino," little sensitivity to the serenade, and, more generally, no charm to counterbalance the cruelty. When, at one point, he threatens to castrate Leporello, you feel he might really do it. No surprise that the production fails to cohere as a dramatic whole.

Still, as a series of operatic numbers, there's much to enjoy. Yes, Halfvarson lacks heft as the Commendatore; and Poplavskaya, a rather tight and unsympathetic Donna Anna, lacks the tonal panache and virtuoso conviction to bring off the ending of "Non mi dir" (in her defense, she was suffering from a throat infection during at least one of the performances that were coalesced into this video). But Ketelsen, who looks enough like Keenlyside to make the identity-switch credible, is a perversely sympathetic Leporello, and Ramón Vargas (vocally at least) makes Don Ottavio a plausible suitor, strong-willed and passionate (his awkward stage presence is another matter). Better still are the sweet-toned, finely controlled, and musically flexible peasants, Robert Gleadow and Miah Persson. Superbly matched singers, they have the kind of relationship--and the kind of underlying purity--that make you think Masetto and Zerlina could grow up to become Figaro and Susanna (in fact, Persson has taken on the role of Susanna with distinction; see 32:1). Best of all, though, is the fiery DiDonato, who enters with rifle in hand and who continues to dominate whenever she's present: this, in the end, is Elvira's story.

Mackerras conducts with his accustomed clarity, although I found that the energy level tended to drop here and there, especially in the first half of the second act. The orchestra, as we've come to expect, plays magnificently. As for Francesca Zambello's production: originally premiered in 2002, it has come in for years of criticism, mainly from the British press. But in today's climate, you have to give it a kind of negative credit, if only for its lack of disrespect for the music and the libretto. It's generally colorful, and it evokes the 18th century without turning stiff or fussy; the pyrotechnical display in the final scene is fairly impressive. Yes, the men are having a bad hair day (never has a production so insistently called out for more shampoo), and yes, there are some odd moments: why does Ottavio walk off in the middle of "Non mi dir"? Then, too, the staging is often cramped. But unlike so many productions these days, it doesn't go out of its way to spit on the ideas of the composer and librettist. There's one major exception, though, and it's a big one. After the final sextet, the curtain opens to show us Don Giovanni in hell: there he is, in triumphant naked glory, holding a glamorous (and also, of course, fully unclothed) woman in his arms. So much for punishment.

The video quality is first-rate, especially, of course, on the Blu-ray version; excellent sound, too. There's also a lengthy and provocative essay by David Nice in the booklet. The only complaint about the production is Opus Arte's decision to issue the Blu-ray version on two discs: it would easily have fit on one, which would have given the release an economic edge.

Recommendation? This DVD is a compilation of two performances in September 2008, and readers with sharp eyes for details in headnotes and a good memory for cultural trivia might have noticed that the first of them is the notorious performance that was reserved for readers of The Sun. Those who were present, or those interested in the fascinating intersection between tabloids and opera over the years, may well want this set in their collections as a memento of the event. Others, though, should turn elsewhere. Among recent performances, I've been most taken with the Jacobs SACD (I've not yet seen his video account) and Kreizberg's Glyndebourne DVD, although neither has entirely alienated my affections from long term favorites presided over by Walter, Rosbaud, Krips, and Giulini. -- Fanfare Archive, Peter J. Rabinowitz, Nov/Dec 2009

Some scenes, like certain recipes, look so simple on the page yet turn out to be next to impossible to stage credibly. Take, for instance, the end of the first act of Don Giovanni. We all know what has happened; the Don has accused Leporello of assaulting Zerlina, but nobody is buying his story. Somehow or other the Don gets away scot-free at Leporello's expense, as Leporello will complain at the beginning of the next act. But how? (This being the stretta of an opera buffa finale, there are no stage directions to guide us.)

Usually the Don strikes some dashing pose or other center stage while everyone else mills about aimlessly, which doesn't get us from here to there. In the new DVD of Francesca Zambello's Covent Garden production of Don Giovanni from Opus Arte, Simon Keenlyside as Don Giovanni, having casually disarmed his enemies of their swords and pistols during the stretta, makes his escape by climbing the wall on a red rope dangled by one of his red-clad servants. It gets us from here to there, after a fashion, but rather crudely; which kind of summed up my feelings about the production.

Red is a very important color in this production (sets and costumes, the latter fantastical late eighteenth-century, by Maria Bjornson). Don Giovanni is dressed all in red and reddish-brown, which flatters Keenlyside's complexion rather nicely. The ballroom of the palace of the Act 1 finale is all in red, with matching lackeys. This contrasts with the virginal white of Donna Elvira's Act 1 wedding gown and Zerlina's shift (a very unflattering garment for poor Miah Persson). Clearly we are meant to liken Don Giovanni to the Devil.

There is plenty of fire in the final scene-none of it connected to the Commendatore, who rises from below looking just as he had when alive, and whose statue is represented by a hand-like structure made of blue lights at the back of the stage, scarcely visible at all in the previous graveyard scene, which moves to the front to the stage at last to cast the Don into hell. (Eric Halfvarson's wobbly singing as the Commendatore didn't help make him seem any more threatening.) But in a final touch, the last thing we see in the Epilogue is... Don Giovanni in hell holding a naked woman in his arms. What kind of punishment is this?

Under the circumstances, Keenlyside literally climbs the walls a lot-the first verse of "Deh vieni alla finestra" is sung while hanging with one hand off Donna Elvira's garden wall-but piles on the soft legato charm with the ladies, achieving genuine vocal and physical elegance in "La ci darem la mano". The Devil can be a gentleman, as goes the old saying; but he can also be a positive ruffian with the men, as "Meta da voi" revealed-the duel with the Commendatore is rendered as a mugging pure and simple (not even with Don Giovanni's sword, but Leporello's dagger!)

But this is a very violent production by traditional standards (props to fight director William Hobbs); even Donna Elvira in her opening scene brandishes a musket, though to no good use considering that just by pulling the trigger she could have dispatched Don Giovanni then and there. Also a very touchy-feely production; when during "Mi tradi" Zerlina and Donna Anna wander in and began taking things away from Donna Elvira, we seemed to have wandered into a group therapy session.

Of the three ladies, vocal honors go to Joyce DiDonato's Donna Elvira. I was surprised at how large and how comfortable with the higher reaches of the music her voice seemed. What with her unremitting vocal and dramatic intensity throughout the first act, the notion that some misguided early-music conductor suggested the Fidelio Leonore to her seemed less crazy. (And having heard her in the Curtis Alcina, I marvel all the more that she can adjust her vocal approach from the delicate nuances of period-instrument Handel to the broader strokes of big-house Mozart.)

Persson, as Zerlina, has the sort of light lyric soprano that projects as solidly in its lower octave as it gleams above the staff; she was the most enthusiastic adder of ornaments among the cast. Marina Poplavskaya threw herself into Donna Anna's plight with plenty of gumption, but the music doesn't show her voice to advantage; declamatory passages too often came out dark and foggy, and anything above the staff thinned out.

Kyle Ketelsen, as Leporello, offered an exceptionally nuanced vocal performance matched to a smooth and ringing bass, without milking the audience's attention even though he rather overdid the physical awkwardness shtick. (I especially enjoyed his handling of the multivolume encyclopedia of Don Giovanni's conquests-did I tell you this is a prop-heavy production?) Ramon Vargas, as Don Ottavio, has vastly improved his posture since I last saw him as Ramiro in the Met Cenerentola back in 1998. He played the role as a properly manly aristocrat rather than the stereotypical wimp, to the point of rather barging his way through "Dalla sua pace" so that you realized what a difficult aria it was ("O mio tesoro" fared well, though).

Robert Gleadow, the Masetto, sounded right, but he could have restrained his temper a little- or at least directed it to some object other than Zerlina- to dramatic advantage. Sir Charles Mackerras, in the pit, conducted with his usual energy; few of his patented added ornaments made it into this performance, but appoggiaturas abounded.

So should you buy this performance? It's not one for the ages. There are better traditional Don Giovanni productions on DVD out there. Still, it's pretty well sung and conducted; it may not be worth preserving on DVD, but it would I imagine be an enjoyable evening in the theater. -- Partererre Box, Indiana Loiterer III, November 5, 2009

TC has reviewed seven DVD versions of Mozart's Don Giovanni (Issues 115,137, 179, Arthaus; 160, 186, Opus Arte; 173, TDK; 197, EMI), but the eighth, from the Royal Opera (Covent Garden) in 2008, is the only production that treats the work as a tragedy with comic moments, according to the work's designation as a "dramma giocoso" (1009 D, two discs). The singing is terrific; Simon Keenlyside (Don Giovanni), Kyle Ketelsen (Leporello), Marina Poplayskaya (Donna Anna), Joyce DiDonato (Donna Elvira), Miah Persson (Zerlina). In addition, Ramón Vargas brings star-quality singing to the usually colorless role of Don Ottavio. Charles Mackerras leads the excellent orchestra in one of his most dynamic performances. All three female leads look their roles; the Don certainly would find them attractive, which is not always the case in performances of the opera. High definition video and great sound in all three formats. Several short bonus interviews are provided. -- Turok's Choice, Paul Turok, November 2009


Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Mozart, Keenlyside, Didonato, Vargas, Mackerras
  • Directors: Zambello
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Italian (DTS 5.1), Italian (PCM Stereo)
  • Subtitles: Dutch, English, French, Italian, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Opus Arte
  • DVD Release Date: May 26, 2009
  • Run Time: 202 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001U5V03U
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,566 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Albert R. Barron on November 14, 2009
Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
This is the most completely satisfying video production of Don Giovanni I have encountered to date. Allow me first to assuage concerns regarding the sound on this Blu-Ray disc -- succinctly put, the LPCM 5.1 sound is impeccable. The singing, acting, conducting, design, stage direction, and video direction converge ideally with each other to create a jewel of operatic performance. The result is an as near perfect production of Don Giovanni as I have ever seen (N.B. The search for such a well-balanced production of Don Giovanni, either in live performance in opera houses around the world or in video productions from film to Beta to VHS to Laserdisc to DVD, has been the "Holy Grail" of my opera enjoyment for the past thirty years. I believe I have found it.) I am heartened to think that this production on Blu-Ray may provide newcomers to Mozart and opera in general with an elegant and superb introduction to both the composer and the medium.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Todd Kay on December 3, 2011
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The director, Francesca Zambello, is not working in top form here. She brings to her Royal Opera House DON GIOVANNI more than the rudiments of an interesting visual style, and she certainly shoulders some responsibility for thought about character and theme. But she draws from Simon Keenlyside one of the nastiest, most reptilian and charm-free Dons in my experience, surely her choice more than his, and balances the scales with the platitudes and bromides of a contemporary feminist. Over and over, her blocking emphasizes an idealized sisterhood which crosses class lines, with the three women achieving unity in their victimization and perseverance. A Virgin Mary icon literally watches over this trio of beauties as they bond in struggling against a male-dominated world of abusive brutes (Masetto), unrepentant lechers (Giovanni), and paternalistic patronizers (Ottavio, Commendatore). All three women join hands to wield one weapon against the Don at the close of Act I; Elvira and Zerlina console Anna during "Il mio tesoro"; "Mi tradi" is in part an Elvira suicide attempt prevented by the other two. Elvira appears radiantly happy in the final scene when announcing her plan to spend the rest of her days in the convent. Of *course* the Elvira of such a production would be happy about that prospect, both for what she is leaving behind and what she is heading toward: spiritually enlightened sisterhood forever.

None of this is necessarily invalid, and dumber things have been done with this opera, but it is heavy-handed and anachronistic, and not realized with the subtlety and grace that might have gotten it over. Zambello's interest in the women comes at the expense of the men: the Giovanni and Masetto are just unpleasant, while the more genial Ottavio and Leporello seem undercharacterized, stock.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By DDD VINE VOICE on June 16, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This is Keenlyside's second performance of DG to be committed to DVD. Overall it is a great performance. But then he (along with Malin Hartelius) justify perchase of the Zurich (earlier) performance: my recollection was that it was relatively inexpensive. The Zurich performance cannot boast of a "starry" cast, choosing many regulars for the remainder of the cast. It is also very regie oriented although not as obnoxiously as some of the director's other works, e.g., Peleas and Rosenkavalier.

It is quite interesting to compare SK's two different takes on the anti-hero. In Zurich there is some wit and irony in all that SK does with the role. He would appear to be amused at much of what is happening. In the ROH taping, this Don is demonic, possessed and dangerous. Needless to say in both his singing is beyond criticism. Even at the ROH when is needed (La cidarem, Vieni alla finestra, etc.)it is there. Because of the staging and direction at Zurich the ROH is more memorable if only because it is more conventional in approach. Overall the casting more than trumps the earlier set. I understand that the Anna, Marina Poplavskaya was ill; even so she is still able to triumph over her rival, Eva Mei (Zurich); clips on YouTube, notably from Salzburg allow you to hear her in top form. Joyce Didonato is the Elvira. I don't know when the idea of casting a mezzo for this role started, (Zerlina has also been given this role) but Didonato is very, very good. Even so I miss a soprano in the role. Miah Persson, the Zerlina (deluxe casting) really should have sung the Elvira. Kyle Ketelson is a wonderful Leporello, a superb singing actor. Ramon Vargas turned in a lovely performance of Ottavio. I have never heard him in Mozart and he is clearly up to the challenges of Il mio tesoro.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S. J McKenna on December 31, 2010
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
While viewing this, I was not taken with Keelyside, in fact he was a bit repulsive to me. I later digested it and found it/him to be very effective. I don't know Keelyside's intention, but I have decided that the repulsiveness was deliberate. This Don is jaded, burnt out, and bored to tears....but with no other ideas of how to live. He gets progressively more sadistic and desperate for something, anything, to take and keep his interest. The exceedingly strange encounter with the Commendatore in the graveyard was welcome to him as a tonic for his boredom, and maybe death/hell was welcomed too as a hoped-for final end to it. The director's choice of showing the Don up to his old tricks in hell may not be viewed as consequence by some, but I could stretch my premise to say that forcing the Don to continue his earthly life in hell was an exquisitely well-chosen punishment.

Keelyside's age and stage are perfect for this Don, not really old but certainly not young. Vocally he is not the richest, canny certainly, but not with octaves and power to spare. Even his costume seemed to suggest this view. His same-in-all-acts-costume gave a tattered worn-out impression even before contrasting it with the rest of the aristocrat-principals who were well-groomed and dressed and had several costume changes.

The women all are very effective and Ramon Vargas is a treat in the role of Don Ottavio. Leporello however didn't engage me vocally or as the character (he did fine, but...nothing special). He seemed almost too healthy and hearty to be the servant of such a man for the long period of time it appears he has been. Some of the accumulated slime should have rubbed off from the played-out roue that is my view of this Don. Mazetto was OK, but not memorable. All in all, this performance earns additional viewings for me (not the least to see if my impression holds).
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