There are over 40 video recordings of Don Giovanni in the catalogue, dating back to 1954, and Thomas Allen sings the title role in quite a few of them. This one was recorded at La Scala in 1987 and features a very strong cast in a careful, traditional staging. It’s also pretty decent technical quality for the era. The director was Giorgio Strehler in a comparatively rare opera outing. His sets and costumes are of some vague aristocratic past with liveried footmen, big hats and twirling capes. It’s quite handsome but not in any way revelatory. Nor is any aspect of the production really. We are clearly in an aristocratic milieu. Tom Allen’s Don Giovanni is arrogant and proud with plenty of swagger. There’s no hint of ambiguity about Edita Gruberova’s Donna Anna or Ann Murray’s Donna Elvira and Francisco Araiza is a properly dutiful chump of a Don Ottavio. It’s all quite serious with comic relief only in the most obvious places. Having said that, there are some very effective scenes; especially the ending which has a an interesting lighting plot and manages not to be anti-climactic.
The singing is really quite excellent. The stand out is Gruberova who sings gorgeously throughout. “Or sai chi l’onore” is a paragon of restrained power and purity of tone while “Non mi dir” is just breathtaking in its beauty and precision. The rest are no slouches either. Tom Allen gives his trademark Don; though maybe a bit less menacing than I’ve seen him. Ann Murray perhaps injects a bit more character and emotion into her singing but not at the expense of colour and line. Araiza nails his arias and is really pleasant to listen to.Claudio Desderi is a decent Leporello; playing it mostly for laughs and very definitely intimidated by Don Giovanni. Susanne Mentzner is a charming Zerlina though definitely directed to be a very naive ingenue. It’s beautifully sung but hard to imagine anyone playing it that way today. Natale De Carolis is a bit anonymous as Masetto which is odd as he was to go on very quickly to sing major roles all over the place. Sergei Koptchak is suitably sepulchral as the Commendatore. Is there any way of making that role really interesting? I doubt it. Riccardo Muti conducts. He had me wishing I had a score with tempo markings handy since his seem quite extreme. The opening of the overture, for example, is very slow. Maybe it’s just that we have become used to the influence of HIP on orchestras in Mozart even when playing modern instruments. This style seems to look back to, say, Klemperer. He can be dramatic though (like Klemperer!) when it’s appropriate.
For a 1987 TV recording this is technically pretty good. The 4:3 picture is better than quite a lot of recordings made say ten years later and the PCM stereo sound is perfectly acceptable. Carlo Battistoni’s video direction is pretty good for a TV recording of this era except for an irritating habit of superposing Muti on the stage action. This tends to happen at key moments. Really, do you want a giant baton twirler floating above the final sextet? On the original release reviewed here there is minimal documentation and hard coded English subtitles. This recording is currently available (very cheap) from OPus Arte and that may have changed.