Don Giovanni is one of the most fascinating operas in part because it can be reinterpreted in so many different ways. There’s also the tension between a story with elements of murder, rape, revenge and damnation and broad humour. It’s tricky to find a balance. There’s also a decision to be made between a concept based production and a more laissez faire approach. Francesca Zambello’s production for the Royal Opera House, recorded in 2008 doesn’t really have a concept and sort of goes with the flow mixing very broad humour with lots of Catholic kitsch and some flamboyant stage effects. As a production I find it distinctly underwhelming.
Part of my lack of enthusiasm may be because we don’t see much of the production in Robin Lough’s version for video. There are scenes, such as the graveyard scene, where there is obviously a lot more going on than comes over on video. On the other hand, Keenleyside’s thuggish Don and the too cute bit at the very end where we briefly see a rather smug, naked Don Giovanni, in Hell, cradling a naked woman are obviously Zambello and they just don’t work for me. The famoys naked chest, FWIW, only appears in the penultimate scene. The rest of the time Don Giovanni, like the rest of the cast, is dressed in a variety of fantasy 18th century outfits.
It’s a shame the production isn’t more interesting because musically it’s rather good. Keenleyside is a fine Don and he works well with Kyle Ketelsen’s rather grotesque Leporello. Joyce di Donato is as good as one might expect as Donna Elvira, though at times she seems to be having trouble taking the production seriously. Marina Poplavskaya and Ramon Vargas as Donna Anna and Don Ottavio sing well enough but really don’t do anything to stop them from being two of the most boring characters in opera. This production really needed two singers who could make these roles a bit more ambiguous and edgier. Schade or Polenzani with Dasch or Schäfer might just have injected a bit more life into this. Robert Gleadow and Miah Persson though make a pretty much ideal Masetto and Zerlina. Eric Halfvarson is menacing, if not especially steady, as the Commendatore. Sir Charles Mackerras conducts with quite a lot of precision and drive.
The picture, filmed in HD, is very good and both DTS and LPCM sound tracks are top drawer (It’s also available on Blu-ray with uncompressed 5.1 sound). I’ve already alluded to Lough’s rather unsatisfactory emphasis on close ups to the exclusion of what appears to be some fairly slick stagecraft. Documentation consists of a track listing and a peculiar essay that seems to be about just about anything but the production given here. There are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish subtitles.
The market for video recordings of Don Giovanni is absurdly crowded and there are much more interesting recordings than this one.
John, first of all love your blog. I believe that after the ROH’s new Opera GM saw a revival of this production this season that he ordered it destroyed. Maybe all the close-ups are due to the awfulness of the staging.
Thanks and ouch!
I do think sometimes video directors try to save dull productions. It worked with the Met Peter Grimes for example but usually I think it just makes things worse.
I watched this one mainly because Joyce DiDonato was in it; my reaction to the thing as a whole was similar to yours. It’s all right and there is some nice singing in it, but for dramatic punch it’s certainly nothing close to, say, the Claus Guth one for Salzburg (that one is among my favorite DGs ever).
DG is a pretty crowded video market and a recording needs to be a bit special to make the cut and this isn’t. I did enjoy seeing Robert Gleadow though. I’ve seen him live twice in the last few weeks and been impressed. Fortunately he’s back next season in Cosi.
I haven’t watched this DVD since 2008… I really should revisit it soon, if only because I’m a completist. I bought it when it was first released because it sounded so promising, and on a whim, at the same time, I also bought the less-starry DVD of René Jacobs’ Innsbruck production. I was sure that this one would outshine that one. But it’s probably telling that I only watched this one once and never had the urge to watch it again, while the Innsbruck production is one I’ve watched and enjoyed repeatedly and even recommended to an opera-neophyte friend (who loved it).
The one I’ve found myself watching over again is Kusej’s Salzburg production. I think I’ll be taking another look at the Guth too.