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Mozart: Don Giovanni
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The first of the triumvirate of Mozarts last three superlative operas Cosi fan Tutte (1790) and Die Zauberflöte (1791) being the others Don Giovanni (1787) tells the tale of this legendary womanizer, already a cautionary tale of considerable merit, with the added power and weight of a brilliant musical setting by one of mankinds greatest musical geniuses and a stunningly effective libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. This tragicomedy of the highest order cries out for the finest musical forces, voices and staging to be truly overwhelming and meaningful. The cast for this production includes Ildebrando D´Arcangelo (doesnt do Don Giovanni; he is the Don. Unsurpassable 24 Ore) and Carmela Remigio (an exceptionally passionate and tender Donna Elvira. (La Stampa) With direction from Riccardo Frizza and one of Italys finest stage and set designers on hand in veteran Pier Luigi Pizzi, the course is set for a staggering night at the opera.
"...here we have a DVD from a small town in central Italy, Macerata, which most of you I daresay never heard of, produced on a limited budget; an elegant, rapt and joyful reading that puts those grandiose, star-studded productions to shame." --Janos Gardonyi, Wholenote, November
"In contract to Holten's humorless, psychological staging Pizzi's intimate version exudes sexual ease and playful movement, executed in a realistic rococo style. The small, bare stage, dominated by a bed, lends the show an improvisatory feel, as if a wandering troupe had just dropped in to put on a morality play. In fact, without the sound, the almost looks like straight theater, so fine are Pizzi's performers and Riccardo Frizza's supple musical leadership." --Opera News, February 2015
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Now to the opening scenes: Leporello's first aria is not the usual "complaint", but rather we see in it that he wants to be "just like his master", living the same kind of life. Major surprises follow in the Giovanni/Donna Anna opening scene: There's that bed again, and on it, with Anna on TOP, are the couple. What?? It soon becomes clear that Giovanni is not attacking, or attempting to rape, Donna Anna (after all, he's a seducer, not a rapist), and she is torn between yielding to it or not--again, lots of ACTION--when all of sudden in comes the Commendatore. She, who is betrothed to Don Ottavio, has been caught in an embrace with another (masked) man. (In no other productions is this the case, and yet it all fits with the libretto and arc of the story.) So now the Anna situation mirrors the Zerlina situation to follow, and we get to see how each of them deals with it. Suddenly, here, Donna Anna is not the "usual" two-dimensional character of other productions, but is now fleshed out as a complex--and real--human being. Eventually we discover that Anna's approach is going to be to divert Ottavio's attention from all that "other man" stuff by overdoing her remorse over her father's dying, to keep him fixed on that. At the point where she falls into a "swoon", Ottavio's calling for something to revive her, she open's her eyes momentarily to check out how it's all going, this hoax.
There is so much to see here, to notice! Later, when Anna is dressed "in mourning", with a black dress (low-cut, of course, as they all are here), a black wide-brimmed hat and a long veil, she starts removing said veil and hat after she and Ottavio have run in to Giovanni. Why?? She's picking up his allure as a sexual animal and she as a sexual woman--and then it is THAT that suggests to her that he might be/must be the same man whom she was embracing and who killed her father. All this conveys to us that, at the end of the opera when she tells Ottavio that she wants to "mourn" for a year before they marry, she's actually thinking--her sexuality having been fully awakened by Don G.--that she's going to go looking in the next year for some other man who turns her on as Don G. did and marry him instead. I could go on and on here, and would love so to do! But, on to the music and other stuff:
The singers: D'Arcangelo: amazing and glorious in his rich bass-baritone, and again, he inhabits the role like no one before him. Andrea Concetti (Leporello): excellent actor and a stalwart baritone. Myrto Papatanasiu (nee Papathanasiou--altered by her for Italian speakers; go figure) (Donna Anna): A very good actress with a minimum of semaphoric gestures and an absolutely glorious voice: sweet, strong, beautiful, superbly supported, top-to-bottom. She spins out a magnificent long melodic line, as in "Non mi dir". She's good-looking to boot. I rate her the TOP of all Donna Anna's I have heard (!), as I rate D'Arcangelo the top of all Don Giovanni's. Carmela Remigio (Donna Elvira): She comes alive in this production--once more, a three-dimensional woman. Excellent actress with a fine voice who "knocks it out of the park" in the "Mi tradi" scene: gloriously sung and sensually acted. (By the way, note how Pizzi turns the Catalog Aria on its head here, revealing a great deal about both Elvira and Leporello.) Marlin Miller (Ottavio): Excellent tenor, but I will give him short shrift here in order to get to... Manuela Besceglie (Zerlina): She, like Anna before her, has to deal with her having messed around with Giovanni on her wedding day, and she uses a different approach: Her "Batti, batti" is totally ironic (like the incomparable Bidu Sayao's long ago) and she will use her own seductive powers over Masetto to reel him back in. Excellent singer as well. William Corro (Masetto): No country bumpkin/simpleton he. He sees clearly that Zerlina is a "hussy", but, being a typical male, he ultimately cannot resist her sexuality.
Riccardo Frizza, the conductor, is superb here, fully realizing the music, aided by (surprisingly, to my ears) excellent sonics. Sets: totally minimal, focusing the action (the ACTION) where it needs to be, not diverting our attention. Costumes: 18th century, sexy, summer-in-Tuscany colors.
I could go on and on here, and, in fact, I want so to do. But I won't. In sum, this is a production with so much LIFE in it that it weds magnificently with the life in the music. It's an absolutely masterful achievement. If you were to own only one DVD of "Don Giovanni", should this be it? Without question.
I bought it because of Gerald Finley and Luca Pisaroni, neither of which disappointed. However, the production is neither here nor there. I have a lovely, traditional, actually intimate "Meistersinger" from Glyndebourne and expected something similar. No way.
If you go for the voices, great. Other than that, it may not add anything insightful to your collection.
The Don is a role made for Ildebrando d'Arcangelo. He is sexy, has a sense of Mozartian style (listen to his Figaro from Scala) a superb actor and possesses a virile bass voice of great beauty. To the best of my knowledge he has not sung at the Met--our loss. His Leporello is Andrea Concetti; together they form the only relationship that the Don has experienced. Indeed someone on the internet has referred to this performance as the "homoerotic" Don. I suppose we can read into this what we want to; I suspect someone simply has a vivid imagination.
The productiion is minamalist with reflective panel and piecs of furniture--a bed, a table a chair. Not as bare as the Loy Abduction from the Liceu, bur for those requiring "sets"................The period is evoked by the costumes. This is clearly not a personregie "konzept".
The Anna and Elvira are exciting performers, who are able to sing the music with great style and technique although occationally pressed by the vocal demands. The Zerlina and Masetto are unknown to me but also sing Mozart as to the manner born. We associate Mozart with Vienna/Salzburg or ROH/Sussex and sometimes Berlin but the three DaPonte operas are Italian and they benefit being sung with singers who can claim Italian as their native language, notably in the recits, nimble alert and dramatically sensitive.