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Saturday, January 23, 2010

DVD Review: Don Giovanni from La Scala

It's all about Riccardo Muti.
(Well, not really but he likes to be seen while conducting.)
This 1987 film of Mozart's Don Giovanni is memorable for the superb , old-fashioned performance of Thomas Allen in the title role. Seductive and courtly without being oily or disgusting, Allen is a Don that captures everything that is right (and deeply wrong) with the character. And his damnation scene (more on that later) is a spectacular performance, struck with horror at his fate. He is well-matched by Claudio Desderi, who has a pleasant baritone, and more importantly, the right amounts of sleaze and comic timing to make a great Leperello.

Edita Gruberova is an odd choice for the role of Donna Anna. She hits the notes, but does not support them with enough bloom. The effect is that of a thin, column of sound, not the robust woman determined to get her revenge and kick the Don's ass in the process. Ann Murray is better as Donna Anna, blending beautfully in the arias and duets. Suzanne Mentzer is a smart, coquettish Zerbinetta, torn between her need for the Don and love for her new husband, Masetto (the excellent Natale de Carolis). Finally, Don Ottavio may be the most ineffectual tenor in opera, but Franceso Araiza is a perfect fit for the part.

If you are expecting Don Giovanni to end in a spectacular "zombie statue damnation", (something between Night of the Living Dead and Dante's Inferno) this is not your production. The good Commendatore (Sergei Koptchak) appears merely in the form of his statue, still on horseback. And the singer is off in the wings, or hiding behind the horse, or some other such nonsense. This scene does not sound right with one of the singers off-stage. And you never get to see him actually drag the Don down to hell--he just disappears, horror-struck into the smoke.

Aside from an annoying tendency to cut to Riccardo Muti in the orchestra pit (part of the "conductors as stars" trend that infected a lot of late '80s/early '90s opera videos) and some odd choices in the subtitles, this is a pretty good Don Giovanni. It's a basic, traditional production that explores the psychological issues of the characters. Its biggest flaw is the director's decision to ignore the spectacular, unearthly ending that Mozart and Da Ponte planned. Maybe they should have had the Don attacked by a giant statue of Riccardo Muti?

Watch Thomas Allen and Suzanne Mentzer in "La ci darem la mano."

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