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Mozart: Don Giovanni / De Billy, Maltman, Kotscherga, Dasch, Roschmann

Mozart / De Billy / Wiener Philharmoniker
Release Date: 08/30/2010 
Label:  Euroarts   Catalog #: 2072548  
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Ekaterina SiurinaDorothea RöschmannErwin SchrottMatthew Polenzani,   ... 
Conductor:  Bertrand De Billy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera ChorusVienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Don Giovanni Bertrand de Billy, cond; Christopher Maltman ( Don Giovanni ); Annette Dasch ( Anna ); Dorothea Röschmann ( Elvira ); Ekaterina Siurina ( Zerlina ); Anatoli Kotscherga ( Commendator e); Matthew Polenzani ( Ottavio ); Erwin Schrott Read more ( Leporello ); Alex Esposito ( Masetto ); Vienna PO EUROARTS 2072548 (2 DVDS: 177:00 Text and Translation) Live: Salzburg Festival 8/8/2008

Am I just an old-fashioned, unadventurous, narrow-minded old fogey who feels that an operatic production should retain some relationship to the actual libretto (and, incidentally, to the emotional and psychological content of the music as well)? Should I be more open to directorial liberties and imagination? The truth is that I am open to re-interpretations. Peter Sellars’ settings of Mozart held my attention and moved me, as did Jonathan Miller’s famed Rigoletto some years back. But when the staging becomes a vehicle for directorial ego, calling attention to itself, contradicting the libretto, the score, or both, then for me it has crossed a line that should not be crossed.

Claus Guth directed this Don Giovanni at the 2008 Salzburg Festival. The DVDs must not be exclusively from opening night, because none of the staging/sets/lighting folks come out to bow at the end, which is too bad. I desperately wanted to see the audience reaction, and I might have joined them if they booed. If you close your eyes this is a magnificently sung Don Giovanni— from top to bottom one of the most even, high-level casts I could imagine. The singers also deserve credit for appearing to buy into Guth’s concept thoroughly, and acting it with genuine conviction.

Don Giovanni is called a dramma giocoso , and its subtitle is Il dissoluto punito (The Rake Punished). All of that, taken together with the music itself, indicates that the serious and comedic elements of the opera must be held in some kind of balance. Not here. This is a very dark view of the work, relentlessly so, in fact. There are some odd editorial choices in the performance as well. “Il mio tesoro” is cut, despite the fact that Matthew Polenzani sings gorgeously and turns in a classic performance of Ottavio’s other aria, “Dalla sua pace.” The opera’s epilogue is cut (no happy ending here), but the silly duet that Mozart wrote for Leporello and Zerlina for the 1788 Vienna performance is included. That last choice is particularly odd; the duet is absurdly comic (Zerlina beats up Leporello), is published as an addendum to the score, and it doesn’t fit in with the darkness of this staging, even though the director tries to make it fit. (It immediately precedes Elvira’s “Mi tradi.”)

There are all kinds of inconsistencies and oddities in the production. The central one is that Don Giovanni and Leporello are not nobleman and servant, but rather are two young drug-addled delinquents roaming in the forest. Don Giovanni’s brutal side is emphasized, and both are shown injecting drugs and frequently twitching in a manner meant to indicate the effect of narcotics. In the early scene between Giovanni and Anna, it is Anna who is the sexual aggressor, excessively so. This, of course, renders much of her later text quite silly. It may be true that there is genuine ambiguity in the character created by Mozart and Da Ponte, but there is no ambiguity or subtlety here. She is ready to rip off his clothes and her own.

The Commendatore is not killed in a duel, but rather hit over the head with a large branch from one of the trees in the forest (oh, yes, I forgot to mention that the entire opera takes place in a forest—a forest that has what appears to be a bus shelter sitting in the middle of it). Of course, this manner of death makes quite silly Anna’s reference to “this stab wound.” But there I go, being a literalist again. As the Commendatore lies dying, he manages to pick up his pistol and shoot Don Giovanni in the stomach. Giovanni spends the rest of the rather long opera bleeding and, I guess, gradually dying. It is this last conceit that I found hardest to take. He’s been shot, we see the blood constantly, he occasionally holds his stomach and looks as if he is about to pass out, but he still manages to seduce Zerlina, attempt to seduce anything that moves, engage in the charade with Leporello and switching identities, and do everything else the libretto asks of him! It is certainly possible that what happens after the moment in which he is shot is meant to be seen as nothing more than a dying man’s dream, or fantasy—but if that were the case, wouldn’t he look healthy in his own fantasy, instead of bleeding for two hours?

There are many other details of the production that I found troubling. During Ottavio’s “Dalla sua pace” Anna enjoys a cigarette inside a car that has conveniently and without explanation appeared in the middle of the forest; in fact she seems quite the chain smoker. Since she appears to be genuinely inhaling, the effect of this device is to take us out of the drama, and instead have us wonder about the effect of smoking on a fine soprano’s career. The text at the party that ends act I indicates that Elvira, Anna, and Ottavio are masked, but no masks here (again, a few tree branches sort of serve as quasi-masks, but not really). And am I again being too literal when I would like to see a window—or at the least have the existence of a window implied—when Giovanni sings “Deh vieni a la finestra?” When Giovanni calls for wine, why does Leporello produce beer cans? On and on the contradictions go. In today’s world of opera staging, the actual details, even basic ones, of the libretto and score simply do not matter. It is what the director wishes to make of them.

Musically there is much pleasure to be had—and I can recommend this as an audio recording if one averts one’s eyes from the screen. Bertrand de Billy conducts with an almost perfect balance between incisiveness and suppleness. The pace is quick but never rushed, the phrasing exquisitely sensitive. Christopher Maltman sings the role brilliantly, and carries out the character he is asked to play with conviction. It isn’t Maltman’s fault that his singing emphasizes brutality and nastiness at the expense of seductiveness. This is what the production demands of him. One good thing is that Erwin Schrott’s Leporello is the same physical type—making the identity switch credible for one of the rare times in my experience. Their two voices have a similar timbre, as well. The cast, in fact, is superb throughout. Annette Dasch and Dorothea Röschmann sing Anna and Elvira as well as anyone singing today, handling both the long line and the technical demands of these grueling roles easily. Ekaterina Siurina’s Zerlina is also fine, managing with ease the showy coloratura that Mozart wrote into that duet with Leporello. I wish Anatoli Kotscherga’s voice were a bit blacker and more solid; the Commendatore should overwhelm with his vocal presence. But he is more than adequate—and Alex Esposito’s lyrical Masetto rounds out a truly superb cast.

Production values are very high. Brian Large’s direction for the cameras is fine; it captures the production faithfully, and never distracts with tricks or camera changes that are too abrupt or too frequent. The Vienna Philharmonic plays beautifully, and the sound is perfectly balanced and natural in quality.

Some of the other videos available are in a similar nontraditional vein (the 2006 Salzburg production features a whole lot of women standing around in their underwear, just in case you didn’t get the idea that Don Giovanni thought about sex excessively). But there are some very fine DVDs that are musically excellent and that have a stage picture that has something to do with what Mozart and Da Ponte wrote. Zefirelli’s grand but effective production at the Met with Bryn Terfel and James Levine conducting in 2000 (DG 405109) is one good choice, and another is Karajan’s Salzburg performance from 1987 with Samuel Ramey’s rakish Don (Sony 46383). Either of those would be my recommendation. If the staging of this newly issued Salzburg production sounds like it might intrigue you, on a purely musical level you will find very little to fault.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Don Giovanni – Christopher Maltman
Il Commendatore – Anatolij Kotscherga
Donna Anna – Annette Dasch
Don Ottavio – Matthew Polenzani
Donna Elvira – Dorothea Röschmann
Leporello – Erwin Schrott
Zerlina – Ekaterina Siurina
Masetto – Alex Esposito

Vienna State Opera Chorus
(chorus master: Thomas Lang)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Bertrand de Billy, conductor

Claus Guth, stage director
Christian Schmidt, stage and costume design
Olaf Winter, lighting design

Recorded at the Haus für Mozart, Salzburg Festival, 2008.

Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.0 / DTS 5.0
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese
Running time: 177 mins
No. of DVDs: 2
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Works on This Recording

Don Giovanni, K 527 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Ekaterina Siurina (Soprano), Dorothea Röschmann (Soprano), Erwin Schrott (Bass Baritone),
Matthew Polenzani (Tenor), Annette Dasch (Soprano), Anatolij Kotscherga (Bass),
Christopher Maltman (Baritone), Alex Esposito (Bass)
Conductor:  Bertrand De Billy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1787; Prague 

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