Mozart-Da Ponte-Sellars--a superb collaboration
J. S. Mayer | Beit Shemesh, Israel | 05/24/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When I first saw these operas on public television in 1990, I was struck immediately by the way in which Sellars updated them, setting them in New York City and its environs with contemporary costumes, but adhering carefully to the plots so delicately constructed by Da Ponte. The singing is superb, especially in La Nozze (my favorite of the three), with a fine cast with palpable chemistry. The themes of social class, betrayal, and mistaken identity are brought out with humor and subtlety, and Sandford Sylvan, Jeanne Ommerle and Frank Kelley are not to be missed. The extremely dark plot in Don Giovanni is hard to get through, though Sellars casts Don Giovanni and Leporello brilliantly, with twin baritones. Cosi Fan Tutte, while employing the theme shared by all three operas of mistaken identity and boasting excellent singing, lacks momentum with a smaller cast and at times the singers/actors resort to coarse behavior which is meant to be amusing but which this viewer thought strayed into the juvenile realm. Sellars's quirky but informative introductions and commentaries aided this viewer's understanding of what Mozart and Da Ponte sought to achieve, and where they departed from standard opera compositions of the time. While Sellars and his casts don't get everything right, they do a commendable job of bringing three of Mozart's most popular operas to a contemporary audience."
A glory of our time (and Mozart's too)
Michael Berger | Atlanta, Ga | 07/22/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If opera DVD's ever become a collectible, this set will become a classic. First, it offers great performances of three of the greatest and most important operas in the Western European canon - operas in which Mozart expanded the limits and outlined the further boundaries of both comedy, tragedy, and that unique combination of epic/tragic/and comic is that Don Giovanni. Secondly, these are as well directed as any opera you will see. Peter Sellars updates the operas, to 1990's New York City and while a more historically normal setting would be my preference, he makes it work much more often than not. His directing of individuals and relationships is beyond praise: the intensity that he elicits is stunning. And he certainly understands all these operas - the comedic ebulliance, sadness and speed of Figaro (my least favorite performance here; the opera may not be complex enough in genre for Sellars), the uniqueness of Don Giovanni, and the sadness/irony/tragedy/comedy of Cosi, which, in the original set of TV broadcasts Sellars (looking like Einstein or Weird Al Yankovic with his flying hair) inroduced brilliantly by saying sometime to the effect of "Where could Mozart go after Don Giovanni, perhaps the most intense of all operas? He went to a comedy about love, lovers, self-knowledge and identity that he made more intense than its predecessor."
The conducting, by Craig Smith, is fine; the cast uniformly theatrically savvy and mostly very well sung. Standouts include the male Sellars reliables - Sanford Sylvan and James Maddelena (in Figaro and Cosi)-- Dominique Labelle (Anna in Giovanni) and Lorraine Hunt (Elvira in Giovanni) in a role that will delight and surprise her admirers because she is not playing a saintly person.
Individually, there are other performances of particular Da Ponte operas - Peter Brook's Don Giovanni, Nicholas Harnoncourt's Cosi - that are better sung and equally well directed - but though Sellars' are not classical focused (i.e. correct in period) performances, they ARE classic and literally wonder-full performances of some of the greatest artistic works of the West. Mozart would, I think, be touched and amused."