Herbert Von Karajan - His Legacy for Home Video - Mozart - Don Giovanni
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Herbert Von Karajan, Music Director of the BerlinPhiharmonic from 1956 until his death in 1989, is one of the pre-eminent musical figures of the century. He conducted some of the most technically precise, luxurious sounding recordings in all of classical music. The Karajan Legacy film series documents many of these definitive performances, were directed by Karajan, and are among his only digital recordings. The release of these films on DVD brings the superb artistry of this man to fuller expression than ever before. The wonderful opera "Don Giovanni" by Wolgang Amadeus Mozart is performed by Herbert Von Karajan with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring Samuel Ramey and Anna Tomowa-Sintow, recorded live July 1987 at the Salzburger Festspiele.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a two-sided DVD that will need to be flipped over mid-way through its play to continue viewing. If subtitles are activated, you may need to re-activate in the main menu once the disc has been flipped.
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So, I like a traditional staging. I don't want some S&M interpretation or any other modernizations. I once saw the Shakespearean play Henry V "modernized" and it was an insult to the writer---
I don't want to see things too minimal. I hate these new spartan sets with no staging.
This performance delivers. The singing is excellent. All around really good singing. Von Karajan delivers---he brings a snap to every performance that Levine lacks.
If you're wading through reviews and trying to decide if you want to try opera, here you go. It's a great investment. You will watch it repeatedly and you will enjoy it. It's well done, fun, great music, great costumes and sets.
I highly recommend to any beginners. Also, this is a story that is easy and fun to follow. You don't need a background in Norse mythology, Schopenhauer or 16th century Venetian politics.
The role of Donna Anna is sung by the Bulgarian soprano, Anna Tomowa-Sintow. Her association with the Salzburg Festival and Maestro Karajan has been long and fruitful. In the years from 1973 to 1991 she was a permanent guest at the Salzburg Festivals and was one of Karajan's favorite singers. You'll know why when you listen to this DVD. Tomowa's soprano is big but never out-of-control, and it rings like fine crystal in spite of its size and the heavy demands of Mozart's music. She acts the role of the rape (or near-rape) victim whose father was killed by her attacker, with the glassy, thousand-yard stare of a trauma survivor (very glassy--after watching the DVD, I wondered whether she was wearing contact lenses for the first time).
The basso buffo role of Don Giovanni's servant, Leporello fits Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as closely as a pair of his master's discarded unmentionables. He is by turn angrily aware of his inferior position (a sort of embryonic Figaro), slavishly obedient (suspiciously so), lecherous, or primly lecturing his master, for whom he seems to harbor a real fondness. I understand that Furlanetto and Ramey alternated the roles of master and servant, but I have trouble imagining the former as a Giovanni. He's such a perfect Leporello.
According to Peter Conrad, Don Giovanni is an archetype, not entirely human, and the singer must display his own personality while inhabiting the role. If so, Sam Ramey is a pantherish, mercurial, but ultimately friendly lover. When the festivities in the ballroom are in full swing and he drags Zerlina off to ravish her, it's as though he were only teasing. What he really means to do is dunk her in the fountain or throw her slipper over the wall.
Ruggero Raimondi was a joyless, scowling satyr in Joseph Losey's movie of the opera. Most of the dons I've seen on stage at the Michigan Opera Theatre were ribald Errol Flynn types who mounted a servant girl or two just before the Stone Guest rumbled onto them (Dang it, the Don is supposed to be eating dinner in this scene, not rutting like a boar, although we know he does that, too!). However Ramey's Giovanni is elegant, beautifully sung, and somehow very American.
The thankless role of Don Ottavio is sung by the Swedish tenor Gösta Winbergh, who studied structural engineering and played in a rock band, before pursuing his operatic career. I was sorry to hear of his unexpected death last year, because he is the perfect foil for the slightly hysterical Donna Anna of this performance--noble, kind, and stodgy. He propels his fiancé around the stage as though she were a sleepwalker.
Julia Varady sings a thoroughly intelligent, elegant Donna Elvira who is desperately in love with the Don, even when she sings about killing him. I've heard this character described as an hysteric and have seen her played as a slut, but Varady's performance is light years beyond either of these characterizations. She is a real, anguished woman.
Swiss bass-baritone, Alexander Malta is a dignified Masetto (I hate to see him played as a clownish simpleton) who seems older than his new bride and cynical about her motives for hanging around with the Don. Malta is a big teddy bear of a guy and you wonder how Zerlina could ever have been tempted by the false glamour of her aristocratic would-be seducer.
Kathleen Battle's lyric soprano voice and her beautiful stage presence made me wonder if her character (Zerlina) were marrying beneath herself. She seemed slightly self-conscious (and over-dressed) to be playing the role of a peasant. The Don is dead-on about her in their initial scene together.
Karajan's tempi were somewhat funereal, especially in the overture, but overall this is a world-class performance by the old maestro, fully worthy of being conducted in the city of Mozart.
P.S. Raimondi's Don is out on DVD, too, but I'd buy this one first.
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