MOZART: Don Giovanni (complete opera, Vienna version, 1788) – Jacobs, Blu-ray (2008) MOZART: Don Giovanni (complete opera)- Muti (1987/2004)

by | Sep 11, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

MOZART: Don Giovanni (complete opera, Vienna version, 1788), Blu-ray (2008)

Johannes Weisser (Don Giovanni)/ Marcos Fink (Leporello)/ Alexandrina Pendatchanska (Donna Elvira)/ Werner Gura (Don Ottavio)/ Malin Bystrom (Donna Anna)/ Sunhae Im (Zerlina)/ Nikolay Borchev (Masetto)/ Alessandro Guerzoni (Commendatore)/ Innsbruck Festival Chorus/ Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/ Rene Jacobs, conductor
Produced by Georg Wubbolt
Studio: Harmonia mundi HMD 9909013.14
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color, 1080i HD
Audio: Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; PCM Stereo
Subtitles: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish
All Regions
Extras: Looking for Don Giovanni
Length: 3 hours 46 minutes
Rating: ****1/2

MOZART: Don Giovanni (complete opera) (1987/2004)

Thomas Allen (Don Giovanni)/ Claudio Desderi (Leporello)/ Ann Murray (Donna Elvira)/ Francisco Araiza (Don Ottavio)/ Edita Gruberova (Donna Anna)/ Susanne Mentzer (Zerlina)/ Natale De Carolis (Masetto)/ Sergej Koptchak (Commendatore)/ Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala/ Riccardo Muti, conductor

Produced by Hans Petri
Studio: Opus Arte LS3001 D [Distrib. by Naxos]
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: Italian DD 2.0; PCM Stereo
All Regions
Length: 179 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

This Giovanni of Rene Jacobs is essentially, though not quite, the same as the one I reviewed in these pages not too long ago.  Lorenzo Ragazzo was the Leporello on the CD version, along with the Donna Anna of Olga Pasichnyk. Her role is really more significant than his in this case, and she was one of the highlights on the CD recording. Malin Bystrom does equally well here; particularly sympathetic in the way she portrays Anna’s inner strength and resolve to bring the cad to justice. Alexandrina Pendatchanska sings fairly well, though her constant pouting and whiny demeanor stretch the dramatic devices of the character in my opinion. Of course, as the libretto suggests, she is the only one who was actually raped by Don Giovanni, making the double-edged mistake of falling in love with him afterwards. Other recordings have her as somewhat older and even more matronly, which I think is a mistake, even though the singing of Donna Elivira in many of those productions remains superior to what we find here. Sunhae Im (Zerlina) reprises her role here and maintains just the right degree of naïve innocence while showing a fickleness of nature in her all-too-easy willingness to abandon her husband-to-be for the romantic Don. In the DVD however, her voice does not come across nearly as strong as in the studio CD recording.

Giovanni is played once again by 27-year old Johannes Weisser, who does a good job in following the general theme as set by Jacobs and director Vincent Boussard that makes the protagonist a boy with out of control desires instead of the demonic seducer that we have become used to. An interview with Jacobs on the bonus disc proves illuminating in this regard. He believes (and I think he is right) that the taking up of the tale by E.T.A. Hoffman romanticized the story beyond recognition, and Mozart certainly would not have seen Giovanni as an older lecherous man with demonic powers of female persuasion. What would an attractive young waif like Zerlina see in a man like that? Giovanni as devil-roaming-the-earth is decidedly not someone whom Mozart would likely have been attached to, especially as his last three great Italian operas seem to take as their common premise the fallibility and foibles of all-too-human personages. The Don has to be of younger stock to make the story credible, just as it makes no sense to portray Donna Elvira as an older woman either—the young Giovanni would not be interested, and it is doubtful the older one would be either.

So this Don is a youngish kid who in my opinion is played as almost too young. At one point in the story he is sitting and speaking with Leporello and playing with his sword like a child of 14 might be balancing and fooling around with a baseball bat. I think in this instance Jacobs and company have perhaps gone too far with the youth angle. Giovanni, after all, in the end remains resolute in his stance of non-repentance (requiring a considered philosophy), and even speaks at one point of all the “young” girls, something someone young would be unlikely to say. And in the “Catalogue” aria, the sheer number of conquests would preclude an individual too young—when would he have time? Plus, he is obviously a man of some culture and dignity in the world as he occupies a castle. So while I think the leaning toward a younger man is probably what Mozart intended, he would still have to be mature enough to know women well, how they work, how to seduce them successfully, and how to get away with it, as there is no indication in the libretto that he has ever been caught doing this. Only a somewhat wise man, albeit one with boyish charm and young-man desire and looks could pull off these kinds of escapades.

As in the recording, this is the Vienna version which Mozart made some changes in order to please the fickle Austrians. I enjoyed watching this a lot, though it still bewilders me some to try and understand that if the scenery and clothing and generic time period can be indeterminate and neutral and not period-specific, why the insistence on period instruments? I would think that the two go hand in hand and would compliment an integrated and harmonious conception. But this is a decidedly “modern” production in its non-use of props and fairly utilitarian stage. The Freiburgers certainly play very well with some outstanding virtuosity, but I do miss a fuller string sound and presence and feel certain that Mozart’s music as written demands more from the orchestra than what we get here, no matter how well played. In my review of the CD I mentioned that maybe the continuo element was too overdone, but I have rethought that since then and now feel that Mozart—who would have been at the keyboard any number of times—would also have added a good deal of spice to his accompaniments. All in all, this is an extremely enjoyable production, one that other DVDs will have to push hard to keep up with.

The Muti is of another order (and world) altogether. 20 years older, it reeks of old style productions and this in a day where the conductor was one who was rethinking and revitalizing opera at La Scala,  often to the dismay of the local audience. This Giovanni passes their test, though it doesn’t really hit the greatness mark. Muti’s conducting is alive and extrovert, his tempos quite like Jacob’s in many instances. But watching it hot on the heels of Jacobs was a little startling. Compared to the trio of ladies in the Harmonia mundi DVD, Muti’s looks like the Golden Girls; their hair is afro-like and curly (very 80s-dated), the demeanor matronly and sophisticated, and they look, well, unattractive and old. Susanne Mentzer’s Zerlina is peppy and alive, but the other two, despite some obvious fine singing (these are stars after all) hardly come across as anyone a rakish sex maniac would want to pursue. Or maybe he would—after all, the “Catalogue” aria does indicate that he goes after all shapes, sizes, personalities, and even ages, and these two ladies (Elvira, 38 years old in 1987, and Anna, 41) prove the point, but it seems strange that these two singers, fine as they are, should typecast the characters. Only Mentzer comes close, being 30 at the time of this film. Now I don’t want to be seen as one who is fencing out great voices for the sake of stage realities—opera is after all, quite a stylized art form—but there is validity to the comparison here, and one has to wonder how much belief an audience is required to suspend when watching any production.

Thomas Allen may seal the deal, negatively. He is not the most dynamic stage personality I have ever seen, and his Giovanni is decidedly a bit of a gray-haired, middle aged bore. The singing is good but unpersuasive when compared to the greatest in this role—even the more traditional interpretations—and his stage mannerisms lack purpose and direction. The rest of the cast is quite solid, and I must say that the full voice of the La Scala strings was welcome after the paucity of the Freiburgers. The sound in general is decent PCM stereo and Dolby Digital that is full and broad while lacking the sophistication of modern recording techniques like the Blu-ray version. The filming is good while the scenery traditional and quite on the dark side, with a lot of shadows and dimly lit spaces. [Those sorts of images generally show up much better on Blu-ray…Ed.] Not bad, but I think I will be returning to the Jacobs more often than this one, for all the quirks in that production. Muti fans will enjoy his conducting, one of the first of the more modern Giovannis, but nowhere close to being a first-rank effort.

— Steven Ritter      


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