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W.A. MOZART: DON GIOVANNI (Don Juan)
This is a DVD recording of a live 2000 performance from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, starring Bryn Terfel in the title role.
Written in Prague in 1787 to the libretto (texts) by Lorenzo da Ponte, this opera is considered by many to be Mozarts finest opera. That is a hard label to dispute considering how Mozart perfectly blends the story of very flawed (and disturbingly relatable to real life) human characters with such engaging and technically complex music.
The story is basically of the last day in the life of the amoral womanizing noble playboy Don Giovanni (AKA Don Juan). After a life long success in seducing women of all varieties (if the catalog of his servant Leporello is to be taken seriously, Don Giovanni bagged 2065 women by the tender age of 22 yrs old!), his final day is one of unprecedented chain of failures.
He starts it off unsuccessfully trying to rape Donna Anna (though it is questionable if she was consenting to it or not considering she was the one doing the chasing). When her father, the Commendatore tries to stop Don Giovanni from escaping, he kills the old man and gloats over his corpse. With the smell of blood still fresh in his nose he courts a grieving woman before realizing that she is his batty stalker, Donna Elvira. Leaving Leporello to distract the hysterical woman by recounting his conquests tally (Madamina! Il catalogo e questo!), he next tries to seduce the zany peasant girl Zerlina without giving much thought to her soon to be husband Masetto on their wedding day (La ci darem la mano).
After another unsuccessful attempt to bag Zerlina where he is condemned by a crowd of his own party guests (3 of them were Don Ottavio, Donna Anna, and Donna Elvira wearing their evening mask), Don Giovanni beats Masetto up before running off, leaving Zerlina to console the humiliated young man (the very suggestive 'Vedrai, Carino'). Reunited with Leporello at the cemetery, they are greeted by the talking statue of the dead Commendatore (thats how efficient the burial process was in those days... dead in the morning, all buried with statue on top by the evening!). Unfazed by the revenge-seeking supernatural figure, Don Giovanni commands his servant to issue the statue an invitation to dinner that night (O statua gentilissima ... man, if you didnt believe Mozart was a genius before, his use of the trombones in this scene should convince you of it).
In the final scene at Don Giovannis dining room after having mocked Donna Elvira into running off, he and Leporello are horrified to see that the statue of the Commendatore had taken the invitation seriously and shows up for the chow. Offered the chance to repent from his ways, Don Giovanni refuses and is dragged off to hell to one of the most terrifying musical sequences in all of opera, Don Giovanni a cena teco minvitasi (if youve seen the film Amadeus, this is the scene with the terrifying music in the part that talks about the opera Mozart wrote right after his fathers death). The opera ends with a sextet (Ah Dove il perfido) of Leporello, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio, Zerlina, and Masetto singing the moral(s) of Don Giovannis demise and of their own future.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqPcb1nKZYg (Don Giovanni/Zerlina Duet)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue72gvJvpi8 (Commendatore Scene)
Don Giovanni (the playboy from hell) ::: Bryn Terfel (baritone)
Leporello (Don Giovannis servant) ::: Ferrucio Furlanetto (bass-baritone)
Donna Anna ::: Renée Fleming (soprano)
Il Commendatore (Donna Annas father) ::: Sergei Koptchak (bass)
Donna Elvira (Don Giovannis stalking ex-conquest) ::: Solveig Kringelborn (soprano)
Don Ottavio (Donna Annas fiance) ::: Paul Groves (tenor)
Zerlina (a flirty peasant girl) ::: Hei-Kyung Hong (soprano)
Masetto (Zerlinas simpleton fiance) ::: John Relyea (bass-baritone)
Conductor ::: James Levine / Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Chorus Master ::: Raymond Hughes / Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Stage Director ::: Stephen Lawless, using production designed by Franco Zeffirelli
Staging here is traditional to the 18th Century period, and minimalistic (Gasp! That last adjective isnt usually associated with anything done by Zeffirelli). The stage direction by Stephen Lawless is very well done, and the opening sequence of Don Giovannis flight and duel with Il Commendatore is the most believable that Ive seen. This opera requires a lot of changes of scenery during each act, and this production accomplish that without being distracting. Everything is coherent and all the singers are superb actors/actresses who are very convincing in their roles. The scene of Don Giovannis demise when the statue comes to dinner is spine chilling . I love that the horror of the scene is conveyed more by the acting of the 3 low-voiced men rather than some extra stage tricks. That is not something I could say in most other productions!
The Welsh wonder-bass-baritone Bryn Terfel is the main event in this show. He fully embodies the egomaniac Don Giovanni and manages to successfully project the characters moral repulsiveness while being very disturbingly magnetic (the word I prefer more than attractive here) at the same time. It is amazing how such an amicable gentle giant that this singer is off-stage can be so convincingly sinister on it. Both vocally and theatrically, he is untouchable. Simply the best Don Giovanni Ive ever seen or heard.
The side-kick, Leporello, is the reliable Ferrucio Furlanetto, who impresses more by his acting than his singing (not that he sings badly either, though he is not in superb voice for this performance). You really want to keep your eyes open to enjoy this Leporello. In a lesser cast he would have walked off with the show, but aside from a marvelous Don Giovanni, this cast is also blessed with a wonderful Donna Anna of the American soprano Renée Fleming, whose sumptuous voice is complimented by her very convincing acting. She and Mr. Terfel make the opening sequence (notoriously prone to looking a ridiculous farce) the most dramatically compelling one Ive ever seen (thanks in no small part to great stage directing by Mr Lawless!). She walks off with a big bouquet of rose at the curtain call, but Im not sure it was really meant for her since it landed on the stage right after Signor Furlanetto left and before she entered. At any rate, picking the thing up was the kind thing to do. Brava, Ms Fleming.
As the nutty Donna Elvira is Solveig Kringelborn, who, after a slow start, gives an excellent performance and is everything I could hope for. Hers is probably the most difficult singing role in the opera and the most theatrically diverse (after all, Donna Elvira isnt quite mentally stable... to put it kindly). The weird thing is that her voice doesnt match well with Mr. Terfels and Ms Flemings during the Mask Trio (Protegga il giusto cielo) toward the end of the 1st Act. Maybe that is dramatically intentional as the camera often shoots her isolated from the other two in that scene as well, but musically to me something is lost in her being the odd-girl out.
I like Paul Groves as the pompous big-mouth (though not that big on action) Don Ottavio very much. His light voice really comes off well for this role and his singing style really fits well with Mozarts music and gives one of the best rendition of Act I ending aria Della sua pace Ive ever heard.
The sweet-voiced Zerlina of soprano Hei-Kyung Hong is a bit of a let down for me. I like Zerlina to be a bit more worldly wise than she shows, without being vulgar (which is arguable whether she had crossed that line a few times in this performance). I dont care much for her Act I Batti, batti, but from Act II Vedrai, carino on, she is very good (she acts better than she sings). More thoroughly convincing is the bass-baritone John Relyea as her jealous and moody fiance Masetto. The Commendatore of Russian basso Sergei Koptchak is also very good. He doesnt have a lot of stage time, but when he does appear he draws attention.
Maestro James Levine is his usual impeccable self in leading the Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera in the pit. He sets the dramatic tone of the story early in the overture and keeps building the tension as it progresses. I like that he includes the sextet at the end of the opera, which is sometimes omitted (without it, the opera is more of a dramatic piece that ends with a climatic bang. With it, the ending is a bit less jarring, however).
All in all, this is an excellent performance of Mozarts greatest opera, and should be enjoyable especially for lovers of drama who like sarcastic and rather warped sense of humor as well. Even with some minor rooms for improvement, it is still the very best performance on DVD that Ive seen (though I havent seen the one from Zurich conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt yet). If you are a fan of Mozart, Bryn Terfel and/or Renée Fleming, you really have to get this DVD.
2 DVD. Sung in Italian with subtitle in: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese. Package insert contains track listing with track-by-track synopsis in English and French. No libretto.
Extra includes photo gallery from past productions of this opera at the Met (from the earliest one in 1883), trailers of other opera from the Met.
Other reviews of Mozart opera:
Apollo et Hyacinthus (Salzburg 2006), Ascanio in Alba (Salzburg 2006), Bastien und Bastienne/Der Schauspieldirektor (Salzburg 2006), La clemenza di Tito (Salzburg 2003), La clemenza di Tito (Zürich 2005), La clemenza di Tito (Munich 2006), La clemenza di Tito (JE Gardiner), Cosi fan tutte (Ponnelle film), Don Giovanni (Met 2000), Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Salzburg 1998), La finta giardiniera (Salzburg 2006), La finta semplice (Salzburg 2006), Idomeneo (Salzburg 2006), Idomeneo (Met 198-), Lucio Silla (Salzburg 2006), Mitridate (Salzburg 1997), Mitridate (Rousset), Le nozze di Figaro (live performance- SDO 2007), Die Zauberflöte (ROH 2001), Die Zauberflöte (Modena 2005), Die Zauberflöte (Zürich 1999)
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older