A Mostly Fine 'Don Giovanni' with Mostly Good Young Singers
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 06/23/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There is no doubt who the stars are in this Vienna State Opera production of 'Don Giovanni': the Vienna State Opera Orchestra (aka the Vienna Philharmonic) under Riccardo Muti. I have rarely heard such subtle, flexible orchestral support in what is, after all, generally considered a singer's opera, but one that has innumerable orchestral felicities. And they accompany a cast of singers who, while not all that well-known internationally at the time of this performance (1999), are performing at quite a high level. This live performance (not in the Opera House but in the more intimate Theater an der Wien) was recorded for Austrian television and directed for that medium by the ubiquitous (because he's so good) Brian Large. The stage production by Roberto de Simone is mostly traditional, although one peculiarity is that the costuming (by Zaira de Vincentiis) is updated era by era as we go through the various scenes of the opera -- Giovanni starts out in Act I, Scene I dressed in 16th century commedia dell'arte garb and by Act II he is dressed in a kind of 19th century costume, having along the way been dressed in 17th and 18th century wig and tights, etc. This is mildly puzzling but not intrusive, nor does it add much to the production. The sets are mostly utilitarian, albeit beautiful, and do not distort the action as is so often the case in recent European productions.
As I said, though, this is a singer's opera and here we have much to happy about. The young, lithe Carlos Álvarez (a Spaniard who had gone to medical school and become a gynecologist before switching his career to singing) makes a marvelous Giovanni, both in his singing and his acting. He comes across as very charming and one can see how he could win over Donna Elvira even after she has denounced him. The Elvira is Anna Caterina Antonacci. She is a beautiful woman and has a striking voice. It took part of the first act for her voice to warm up and as a result her sound in 'Or sai chi l'onore' is a little covered. But when the voice frees up she sounds thrilling, as in 'Mi tradi' in Act II. Donna Anna is sung by a young Canadian soprano, Adrianne Pieczonka, and she is simply marvelous. I admit I'd never heard of her before, but I was won over. (As I write this, her moving 'Non mi dir' is replaying in my mind's ear. Lovely.)
Leporello is taken with complete gusto by the handsome Ildebrando d'Arcangelo. His servant is winning, cunning and hunky. And he can sing, too. His 'Catalog Aria' is a charmer. One surprise for me was the silken Don Ottavio of tenor Michael Schade. I had only heard him once before and thought he was a rather typical tenorino, but in this production he produced a sweet, full voice that did full justice to his 'Dalla sua pace' and 'Il mio tesoro.' And his acting was effective. Slightly less so was the Masetto of Lorenzo Regazzo. His voice was a little rough around the edges and his acting a bit stereotypical. It didn't help, probably, that he was mostly in scenes with the gorgeous and gorgeous-voiced mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager, who has since become an operatic superstar. Her 'Batti, batti' was delicious and her acting charmingly effective. The Commmendatore was the appropriately cavernous-voiced basso, Franz-Josef Selig.
You will have noticed that many of the principals are Latins -- Álvarez, Antonacci, d'Arcangelo, Regazzo -- and that, coupled with Muti at the helm, conspired, I believe, to make the opera more Italianate than it often is. Muti conducts on three different DVD releases of 'Don Giovanni,' one of which, from La Scala, I've also reviewed here. They're all good. But this one is also particularly good-looking, at least partly because of the young attractive cast. I recommend this DVD with only minor reservations as noted above.
1 DVD; LPCM Stereo; Subtitles in English, Italian, German, French, Spanish; liner notes in English, German, French. TT=173. No extras.
Quirky production but solidly rewarding, musically
Plaza Marcelino | Caracas Venezuela | 04/16/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Don Giovanni, the quintessentially ensemble opera, receives here a solidly rewarding reading from a highly proficient team. The production may appear quirky, mostly in one all too apparent aspect as is costumes. What producer De Simone and costume designer De Vicentiis want to imply by making the principals dressing to go from the 17th century to the 19th (Antonacci's dress for the supper scene seems taken out of a luxuriously traditional, belle ?poque-ambienced Traviata, and confusingly Leporello awaits for Don Giovanni at Donna Anna's door attired with an Arlechinesque tint that eventually gives way to later dressing), is simply beyond me (the work's timeliness, perhaps -but then why not go into the 20th century as well, or also hark back one or two more centuries, to Tirso de Molina's, the writer of a play that served Da Ponte as his libretto's main source, Spanish Golden Century?). Producers' divism ... some people will dismiss the issue as minor but I found it meaningless, unnecessary and even irritating, whence I took off the fifth star. Why Muti, a normally very strict and fastidious man of the theatre, went along is also beyond me.
Yet this may well be the most appealing Don Giovanni available on DVD, because of its immense musical strengths. The recording being captured live by Austrian Radio, the are imperfections here and there, some of the singers starting a shade tentatively and improving significantly as the evening progressed and the voices warmed up and "took off". Antonacci is affected by this -mind you, a stunning Elvira, both visually and aurally-, with an Act 1 entrance ("Ah chi mi dice mai ...")a shade tense but her "Mi tradi quel alma ingrata" is for the ages, a Donna Elvira that may well be remembered in the future, much as Schwarzkopf's, Della Casa's or Te Kanawa's are today by the old and the not so old. Hers may not be a voice one takes kindly to at first, but one does warm up to it and her stage presence is all-encompassing. And yet the viennese audience rewards Pieczonka's Anna more enthusiastically than Antonacci's Elvira. The Canadian has by now gained quite a name impersonating the character, and justly so. Alvarez's Giovanni is also quite good, a centred bass-baritone register nowadays somewhat less preferred to the role than it used to be in the past, that none the less manages to eschew those scarpian shadings to Giovanni those bass-baritones of old did seemed to favour. Don Ottavio may well be one of the most fatuous characters in opera, and Schade very well gets into Ottavio's personality, yet allowing it to rise to heroic proportions by the time "Il mio tesoro" comes ... and then allowing him to recede to his day-to-day ways from then on. Youth has allowed D'Arcangelo to progress, as have so many others, from Leporello to Giovanni, which he now is reported to do more often. Yet what a fine Leporello he is, in spite of his (probably producer-induced) sometimes venturing into farcical gesturing and commedia dell'arte inspired antics.
Muti has never joined the authenticist crowd (as, for example, seems to be Abbado's wont of late when conducting Mozart or Beethoven), yet here you'll find some of the liveliest and sharpest Mozart conducting you're likely to encounter. He will then "shape" lines here and there in a way that will generate frowning from the authenticist camp, but the end result is so musical in the end .. which what in the end counts. He secures good playing from his viennese musicians (Vienna Philharmonic in the pit, with their Vienna State Opera hats and theatre musicians on stage for the party and supper scenes).
Good sound if perspectives tend to change rather abruptly as singers stand close of turn away from stage microphones. Orchestral perspectives aren't also that consistent, though, which makes wonder whether the takes don't come from a single live performance but from more than one."
Not perfect, but still good enough for a "bravo!"
James W. Picht | Louisiana, USA | 09/08/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is, in my opinion, a fine performance of Don Giovanni. It's biggest strength is the quality of the singers. They're almost uniformly excellent. The orchestra is truly a pleasure to listen to. The sets aren't terribly interesting, but neither are they annoying, and given the quirky creativity that set designers often want to display, I'm relieved when they're merely innocuous.
The quality of the acting is quite good, especially the Don and Leporello. It helps that they look good in their parts. Donna Anna is not so good. Her voice is nice, but her acting is wooden. It's made worse by the ridiculous costumes she wears, and they get worse and worse as the opera goes on. I admit to being completely baffled by the abuse the costume designer heaps on that poor woman. The other characters don't fare nearly so badly in that department, which makes Anna's costumes all the more baffling. Muti's tempi are brisk, but not unpleasantly so. The opera still lasts for nearly three hours - it's not as if Muti reduces it to a Monty Python skit. I actually think the pacing is quite good.
This performance isn't perfect, but I've never seen one on DVD that was. Either a performer in a major role is too old (sorry, but this is theater, not just music) or is a great singer and poor actor, or the set design and staging are intrusively quirky, or the orchestra is sloppy, or the transfer to DVD is murky. All in all, this recording is solid. If they'd just let poor Donna Anna out of her clown suits and put a singer in the part who can act, I'd up my rating to a 4.5, but it's a very good 4-star disc.
Update: I've watched this disc a few times since I wrote this review, and I've decided I should probably watch an opera at least four or five times before reviewing it. I've changed my opinion on the singer who plays Donna Anna - I think she's actually very good in the part. I'd found myself bored and irritated by Don Ottavio, but now I think that Mozart intended for us to be bored and irritated by the man - he's weak where Don Giovanni is strong, he's conventional where the Don is independent, his music is bland where the Don's sparkles. I think he and Donna Anna are exactly as they should be in this performance.
Also, I'm no longer as put-off by Donna Anna's costumes as I was before; they've come to seem oddly appropriate. (For some reason I was calling Donna Anna Donna Elvira when I first wrote this review - I've corrected that.) I don't see the need to emphasize Leporello's clownishness by putting him in white makeup, and I'm a little more bothered by the set lighting than I was (it makes me feel as if my eyes are failing me), but if Amazon would let me up my rating of this disc to five stars, I would."
The BEST Don Giovanni available
jjbraham | Mexico D.F. | 05/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First of all let me tell you that I have most of the Don Giovanni available on DVD, and this is by far the best. Please don't pay attention to traditionalist who are repulsed by any change at all, no matter how small or interesting it may be. That's certainly the case here, where the principals continually change dresses and hair makeups. What one can see is a historical progression begining with not very aesthetically pleasing XVI century dresses and makeups all the way to better looking World War 1 dresses, passing through the French Revolution and XIX century Habsburg times. I for one found it a welcome change, which could have been made to state the universality and timelessness of the piece.
Now the singing. I believe these are the perfect singers for each role. Carlos Alvarez is incredible in the role, the perfect Don Giovanni, in singing and acting, way better than Terfel in the Met version. Adrianne Pieczonka is also better than Fleming, something I'd never have thought (the latter's voice just doesn't meld well in ensembles). Antonnaci begins a little shaky but in the second act is riveting. D'Arcangelo is the best Leporello of the moment (like Furlanetto was when he was young) and the then young Angelika Kirshlager, who'm I saw several times in her native Vienna, is one of the best Mozart mezzos of the latest time. Michael Schade, with his velevet voice is also one of the best Mozart tenors around, equally convincing here as in his Salzburg Clemenza.
And finally but not least (all the contrary) is Riccardo Muti's exciting and fast conducting. Let me state that I think this is Mozart's most difficult opera to conduct because it's very difficult to maintaint the drama and tension that the opera demands. I have only heard Harnoncourt and Giulini who could do it so well (unluckily Harnoncourt never had in CD or DVD the great cast that Muti has here). It's true, I'd have liked him to decrease the speed a little in some arias (the ensembles are at a perfect intense and dramatical speed), but hey, it's Muti, who's always one to give you exactly whatever Mozart wrote in the score, so in any case, Muti's not the one to blame... What he achieves is that the opera never drags, like some moments in the Met's version, and is always dramatic and full of tension.
Just as a clarifying statement, the Vienna State Opera Orchestra is not the Vienna Philharmonic, with nothing in commeon except the city's name (luckily, since I doubt that the rigid Philharmonic could have given Muti the fast and dramatic tempos that he needed). Nevertheless, it's a first class orchestra and the best opera orchestra I've heard along with the La Scala orchestra.
The sound is only in stereo but, while not as state of the art as the latest Opus Arte releases, very good and effective. Excellent balance between the orchestra and the singers, unlike some others in which the orchestra is so low in level, they make you think it's on not on the same building. "
Bruno L. Garzon | Chicago,IL | 05/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This version of Don Giovanni was sort of an "impulse buy" because it was cheap and had a few names I recognized (Schade and Josef-Selig.) So I took it home and watched select scenes on it and I wasn't too thrilled with it so I put it away for a few days. Remembering I had bought it I decided to watch it again and found that it was a very compelling Giovanni. Plus, it was the 1st time I had ever seen my now favorite opera singer as Donna Anna- Adrianne Pieczonka. This has got to be the fastest Don Giovanni I have ever seen (Ricardo Muti is known for this.) There were some disappointments as in any performance. Some of the bad things were: the Donna Elvira was a MAJOR disappointment. She just stood there and sang her lines and gave the anguished played character of Elvira no emotions whatsoever. That was the only let-down except the somewhat flawed Zerlina but she at least gave some effort to try to be the character. Now the good parts: as I said Adrianne Pieczonka is my favorite opera singer now and I had no idea of her until this DVD. Her flowing notes come effortlessly out of her mouth. "Non mi dir" and "Or sai chi l'onore" are highlights of the DVD. Don Giovanni and Leoporello are very good and sing with a very firm foundation. Don Ottavio is a very good and convincing one yet seems too wooden with Donna Anna. The Commendatore is also a very convincing one with the material he's given. Masetto is also a very good/strong voice. I recommend this DVD to everyone who loves this opera and even beginners just diving into the ocean that is Mozart."