Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Mozart Don Giovanni |
Actors: Rene Jacobs, Johannes Weisser, Malin Bystrom, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Sunhae Im
Director: Vincent Boussard
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Mozart's masterful Don on period instruments
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 05/16/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Following his commission for a new opera to be performed in Prague after his great success there with Figaro, Mozart canceled all personal appearances in Vienna for the year 1787 and hunkered down to compose his new work without distraction. However, being Mozart, the flood of ideas omnipresent in the labyrinth that was his mind forced him to create the masterful string quintets in C Major and G minor K.515 and 516, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik K.525, and the brilliant Violin Sonata in A Major K.526, as well as several other pieces, while he was writing Don Giovanni. There is no doubt he considered this new opera a composition of great importance, pressing Da Ponte for his best work. Desiring a new operatic form, Mozart himself labeled Don Giovanni a 'dramma giocoso': something beyond mere opera buffa, nevertheless something witty and entertaining. Rene Jacobs has recorded all of the Da Ponte operas, with Cosi Fan Tutte and Le Nozze di Figaro resulting in especially brilliant performances. His version of the Don, however, has sparked some mild controversy over his choice of tempos and an occasional variability in the speed of certain arias. Jacobs' justification for these tempo changes is his desire to remove the 19th Century accretions since the era of E. T. A. Hoffman that have caused much of the opera to be performed too slowly. He returns to Mozart's original tempo markings, as well as utilising letters written by Mozart and Da Ponte in which the opera is discussed. He has brought a similar vision to this DVD performance, filmed at the Innsbrucker Festwochen on 6 October 2006 at the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden.
The cast is mostly young, with Malin Bystrom an unusually beautiful Donna Anna with a lovely voice. Johannes Weisser is a youthful, handsome Don who brings a light rakishness to the role, rather than the dark malevolence someone like Bryn Terfel has mastered. The rest of the cast are quite good, all of them somewhat lighter in effect than in other adaptations I have seen. It works because this is a period instrument performance, the superb Freiburger Barockorchester playing with limpid grace and a crystalline clarity of tone that illuminates Mozart's brilliant score. There is a suave assurance to their playing, a musical buoyancy that matches the relatively lighter tone of the singers. Heavier voices simply would not work with this orchestra. Though some may be put off by the occasional variability in tempo, or by the slight quirkiness of some arias similar to that found in the CD version, I found this production's slightly frothy vocal quality well matched by the mercurial sound of Mozart's masterful scoring as played on period instruments. The band and the singers seem to be able to turn on a dime whenever it is called for. The performance includes the final sestet, removed by Mozart for the first Vienna performances.
The simple set resembles German Expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: angles askew, simple geometric designs. Costumes suggest their 18th Century counterparts (while remaining strangely modern), and are also simple. The stage direction is similarly unencumbered. The sound in PCM stereo and DTS 5.0 is clear and rich, instruments and voices have a wonderful bite and presence that is perfect for the period performance style. The packaging and enclosed booklet are quite nice, in typical Harmonia Mundi fashion.
A lithe period instrument performance with a strong young cast makes for a good investment if you are amenable to Rene Jacob's Mozart. Strongly recommended.
Throw away all your other recordings. This performance will
Kip Montgomery | Jackson Heights, NY USA | 05/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is, quite simply, an astonishing and breathtaking performance, and deserves nothing less than 5 stars from anyone with even a remotely sensitive ear for this opera. I have just finished my first viewing, and I am nearly speechless. I cannot wait to watch it again tomorrow.
These are just a few of the reasons you need this performance:
1) Each and every singer in the lead roles is great, with the standouts in my opinion being Johannes Weisser (Don Giovanni) and Alexandrina Pendatchanska (Donna Elvira), though I hesitate to single them out because the whole cast is just incredible.
2) The recitatives are nothing like you've ever experienced, in terms of drama and energy. The secco recitatives are accompanied by, thankfully, a fortepiano (not a harpsichord), played with astonishing grace, elegance, drive and wit. I was blown away. The camera is almost exclusively trained on the stage, but it takes a few occasions to show this remarkable fortepianist during the opera. He deserves every shot he gets. The recitatives accompagnato are likewise mind-blowing, thanks to the genius of Rene Jacobs and the execution of his orchestra.
3) The acting is great. I have never seen such a natural, fluid acting among opera singers who are also singing incredibly beautifully AND keeping up with Jacobs' sparkling tempi (more on that in a moment).
4) The orchestral playing, as anyone previously familiar with the Freiburger Barockorchester would expect, is note-perfect, exquisitely in tune, and virtuosic beyond any measure. Insert your choice of fifteen more adjectives of highest praise here.
5) The conducting of Rene Jacobs, again as anyone familiar with his previous work would expect, is masterful. A previous reviewer (who sadly scores this only 4 stars) complains of "erratic" tempi, but he is wrong. Jacobs' tempi could not be more intelligently chosen, and the flexibility he shows is a reflection of the dramatic course being played out on stage. Who wants rigid tempi for a stage work? That's ridiculous. Trust me, the tempi are PERFECT (yes, on the fast side--GOOD!) and there is nothing erratic about them. His nuances beautifully amplify the drama.
(Have I used enough superlatives yet?)
In addition, the set contains a 54-minute documentary on the making of this production, "Looking for Don Giovanni," in which the director, Nayo Titzin, follows the "creators of this production in their search for a certain musical truth." In my estimation, they found it.
Anyone familiar with the work of Rene Jacobs will not need me to persuade them to acquire this performance. You have probably already purchased it (or will soon) and you probably already love it (or will) as much as I do. What I do hope is that someone first coming to this opera, or first coming to the work of Rene Jacobs and this remarkable cast will trust me when I say that you will simply be blown away by the performance. If you're looking for opulent sets, lavish costumes, and fancy props (as apparently a previous reviewer wants), look elsewhere. Here you're getting a musical performance of the highest order, with acting of a quality that matches the extraordinary music-making.
I cannot praise this performance highly enough, and I hope many others will lend their 5-star voices to the rating. Do not hesitate in acquiring this performance."
Musically Strong... Visually Much Left to be Desired
Dexter Tay | 05/13/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Much contention has been sparked over Rene Jacobs' Don in the review section for the audio CD. As the unwaveringly favourite opera of mine for some dozen years since I first heard it, I quite unhesitantly purchased this DVD off the rack, somewhat confident that I would not be disappointed (and somewhat given the the impression that Jacobs had done wonders with the other Mozart Operas and would similarly do so for this greatest opera that Mozart had written).
The first thing that threw me off-balance was not unlike what other reviewers had mentioned; the erratic tempi adopted by Jacobs. In some places he does it effectively for dramatization, in many others, it is just plain annoying. What is unequivocal is that he has taken more than the warranted amount of liberty with Mozart's tempi indications and has introduced some rather amusing accelerations, halts and retardations that I regret to say, would NOT placate or convince most seasoned Mozart listeners with repeated listenings.
The greatest flaw was unfortunately in the most intensely dramatic scene -the appearance of the Commendatore at the invitation to supper. The tempo was bizarrely brisk, and what amused me even more was how nonchalent and comical the Commendatore appeared to be as he descended gradually from the flight of stairs from the audience. Even more puzzling was the choice of placing him away from the stage as he confronted the Don from afar and below - I find the rationale for the choreography absurd, with the Don occupying a high position of power vis-a-vis the Commendatore when it should very well be the contrary.
To compensate for these distractions, the cast was fortunately strong in terms of singing, acting and appearance. A major strength of this rendition was how most of the actors managed to incorporate elements of voice-acting effectively into the recitatives and arias. Some complains of over-embellishment and being too "Baroque-like" is understandable, though personally I am not vehemently opposed to such an animated stylistic variation. The fortepianist went beyond his part as a mere continuo and the audience is invited to witness the incandescent art, virtuosity and spontaneity of this otherwise much underrated and seemingly inconspicuous but nevertheless indispensable element in classical opera.
Weisser and Giovanni has merged as one, and it is refreshing to see such a young rake who is both world-witty and childishly irresponsible after multiple productions. Marcos Fink as Leporello holds his ground against many competing versions and is a central corollary to the comic vein of the opera, other than the Don himself. Pendatchanska as Donna Elvira seems to take too much cue from Cecelia Bartoli (having an uncanny resemblance in all respects, appearance included), but is quite faultless as such (the only accusation I could levy is a lack of originality). Malin Bystrom as Donna Anna is gorgeous both in appearance and voice - though nothing imaginative could be said of the aristocratic couple that are cast as foils to the other characters, which is hardly surprising that their roles are pretty much similar and typical to those created in other productions. I find Sunhae Im as Zerlina a little too skittish for my taste (and her childish antics at the ball pretty annoying). Nikolay Borchev is one of the most charming Masetto I've come across and perhaps the least bufoonish.
The stage direction leaves much to be desired. Experimental it may seem, some staging directions seemed to be done for the namesake of experimentation and were not wholly conciled to their ends. The stage props were pretty dismal as well, seemingly jumping on the minimalistic bandwagon without a conviction to their purpose. A case in point of frivolous stage direction is whereby the statue of the Commendatore walks around in the graveyard while the Don "addresses the audience" when he is supposed to face the statue to make his invitation. In the final moments before his descent to hell, Leporello doubles up as a stage-hand in flapping the curtains (see DVD cover) as a sign of raging flames consuming his master (???). The list goes on. There were nonetheless "less is more" instances that veered on some degree of innovation and success, like the "invisible" catalogue of conquests.
As an end note, a known fashion label adds some hype and contemporariness to the production values, but there were disappointingly few changes in costume (i.e. the Don wears the same piece throughout the production) and together with the slipshod staging, distracts the audience from the sincerity of an otherwise musically-strong production."
A Don with a Don
David D. Dollinger | Pasadena, CA | 06/09/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I had looked forward to Jacobs' Don, especially after seeing the visually gorgeous Figaro (even if the Countess was seriously undercast). Alas the Don is almost visually quite ugly. That description is reserved for the Bieito/Liceu production which is played in stygian darkness--probably a blessing.
As regards the level of singing the Jacob's performance is very high, but the most serious shortcoming is one that cannot be overlooked. Jacobs makes a point of telling us that in Mozart's day the baritone was in his early 20's, that the Don himself is in this age group. Jacobs has chosen a young German baritone with a lovely, if slightly generic quality, who simply isn't at this point in his career to convey the demonic, almost mad, obsessive behavior one expects. Compare hin to Keenlyside and Hampton for only two examples. I know comparisons are considered odious, but with all the other performances out there it can't be avoided. And Jacobs has the luxury of a documentary film in which to make his points. Much of what he says if spot on, much is just academic hoo-ha.
I am glad I have the set; I enjoy period instruments although they are not essential to my enjoyment. If forced to make a choice between all my sets I would plead nolo contendere."