Notes and Editorial Reviews
MOZART Don Giovanni • Bernard Haitink, cond; Benjamin Luxon (Don Giovanni); Stafford Dean (Leporello); Horiana Branisteanu (Donna Anna); Rachel Yakar (Donna Elvira); Elisabeth Gale (Zerlina); Leo Goeke (Don Ottavio); John Rawnsley (
class="ARIAL12i">Masetto); Pierre Thau (Il Commendatore); Glyndebourne Ch; London PO • ARTHAUS 102 312 (DVD: 174:00) Live: Glyndebourne 1977
David L. Kirk gave this a decidedly negative review in 29:5 as a “cheerless, unattractive production.” He denounced the “dismal dark sets” that “Instead of sunny Seville...appear to be in the back streets of Dicken’s [sic] London,” equally dark and unappealing costumes, and badly timed subtitles with numerous unintentionally hilarious misprints. He did like much of the singing, however. For my own part, in a review in 36:4 of a new CD set of the opera conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in which I gave a brief overview of the better versions available on DVD—and committed my own amusing malapropism of substituting Egon Petri for Mario Petri—I praised a “nice ungimmicky staging” and well-sung performances by Luxon and Dean, but criticized “the pedestrian conducting and mediocre Donna Anna and Don Ottavio.”
Well, reviews can provide occasions for humility, in the form of reconsideration and corresponding repentance, and in this instance my revised opinion is much more favorable. First of all, unlike Kirk, I do not find the sets at all dreary, as I remarked before, the outdoor scenes have “the feel of the English countryside rather than the Mediterranean.” While I would rather have the Mediterranean (and this is not the only Glyndebourne production of Mozart that has a “veddy” English feel it), I will happily take that over bizarre dislocations of the action to the Harlem slums, or a modern hotel lobby, or forests with bus stops in the middle of them, or Franco’s Spain, or similar imbecilic atrocities presently being perpetrated in the name of Regietheater. As for the indoor scenes—well, the work does have a dark subject matter, even if leavened with a good deal of humor, and I for one find that it works quite well as “black comedy.” (Remember too that the finale to act I and all of act II take place at night.)
Second, I’m not sure why I initially took a rather low view of the Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, but I am now happy to retract that as an error and place them on the same level as the other principals. Although Benjamin Luxon looks and acts more like a genteel English country squire than a dashingly rapacious Spanish nobleman, he offers a rich-voiced interpretation of the Don that gets the basics right without resort to any schtick, lacking only a debonair dimension. Stafford Dean is a superlative Leporello, quite possibly the best on film; avoiding all buffoonish exaggeration, he fills his role with impeccable singing, deft comic timing, and first-rate acting that make his character sympathetic, almost as much a victim of the Don as the seduced and abandoned women. Horiana Branisteanu as Donna Anna and Rachel Yakar as Donna Elvira are almost two sides of the same feminine coin, each being sensitive and vulnerable. Both cope ably with their high tessituras—how nice to have a Donna Anna not sounding squally as she fights off the Don in the opening scene!—singing with pure, steady tones and executing their coloratura passages cleanly. Leo Goeke is, as Kirk notes, “an uncommonly sympathetic Don Ottavio...an interesting, introspective actor with an ingratiating naiveté,” who avoids coming off as a prig and has a well-focused, pleasing lyric tenor. As Zerlina, Elisabeth Gale is a vocal and visual treat, with a lovely sweet voice matched to an equally beguiling appearance as a sweet ingénue. I am less taken with the Masetto of John Rawnsley; while the voice itself is a solid instrument, he sometimes spoils his singing with distortions intended for comic effect, and the decision to clothe his ample girth in slovenly clothing is unappetizing rather than funny. Finally, Pierre Thau is a superior Commendatore, with the heft and depth of tone and steadiness of emission necessary for his character to make the proper impact.
Third, I will also revise upward my estimation of Bernard Haitink’s conducting. As with Daniel Barenboim, I have never understood how Haitink ever got such an elevated international reputation; for 30 years my moniker for him has been “the leaden Dutchman,” as I have encountered one dull, characterless performance after another from his baton. Upon my initial exposure to this performance, I simply wrote off his part of the performance as “more of the same.” Having heard it again, I must give him more credit than that; while lacking the dynamic incisiveness of the classic interpretations by Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan that I have praised more than once in these pages, this is a competent account that, if unremarkable, at least makes no blunders and gives no occasion for offense. If that seems to damn with faint praise, it is far better than what we get from many podium poseurs nowadays.
Fourth, as for the numerous typos in the subtitles—yes, the ludicrous lack of quality control in that area is distressing, but I can live with that infinitely more easily than with a performance having immaculate subtitles but abysmal singing or appalling stagings.
In conclusion, my re-evaluation of this performance would place it among the top two or three versions on DVD, with the Metropolitan Opera production under James Levine from 2000 on DG, and perhaps the 1999 Vienna State Opera staging under Riccardo Muti on Arthaus, as its main rivals. At a price of less than $20, it is also by far the most affordable of these three alternatives. While there is not yet a version of Don Giovanni on DVD that one can endorse without some reservations, this one is nevertheless a good one and recommended accordingly.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Director: Peter Hall
Recording Date: 1977
Place of recording: From the Glyndebourne Festival Opera
Running Time: 168 min
Picture Format: 4:3
Sound Format: PCM Stereo
Region Code: 0
Subtitle Languages: German, French, English, Spanish Read less
Works on This Recording
Don Giovanni, K 527 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Leo Goeke (Tenor),
Horiana Branisteanu (Soprano),
Benjamin Luxon (Baritone),
Stafford Dean (Bass),
Rachel Yakar (Soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Written: 1787; Prague
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