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J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 12/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"[This DVD can also be bought as part of a recently released twofer that also includes the Zurich Opera production of Così fan tutte, also with Bartoli. I don't know if there is a price break for the twofer or not.]
Of the three Don Giovanni DVDs that I own, I think I like this one best. First of all, musically it is superb. I've never heard a better Donna Elvira than that of Cecilia Bartoli; Elvira is meant to be a force of nature (yet a woman underneath) and Bartoli is certainly that. Her singing is, of course, unimaginably good. Her acting as the wronged Elvira crackles. And her momentary softening in Act II is also believable. Her 'Ah, fuggi il traditor' and 'Mi tradi' are simply outstanding, both musically and dramatically. Rodney Gilfry has a light, flexible baritone which is, I believe, precisely what Mozart wanted -- otherwise why would he have written the Champagne Aria to be sung at that killing tempo? -- and Gilfry has that. In addition, he is the handsomest Don around these days; he is charming, not playing the Don as an out and out villain but as a spoiled rich boy who feels entitled to whatever he wants. Gilfry, you will recall, created the part of Stanley Kowalski in André Previn's Streetcar Named Desire, and obviously that required an animalistic quality that he is able to portray, appropriate for the role of the Don as well. Laszló Polgár as Leporello has a resonant bass-baritone, easily distinguished from that of the Don; but when they exchange places in Act II he lightens his voice (as Gilfry darkens his) and the impersonation seems believable. He plays Leporello as a darker, more saturnine character than we usually see, not just playing it for laughs as many do. His 'Madamina, il catalogo' is played for shock, not comedy, and sung very nicely, too.
The other singers in this Zurich Opera production are just as good. Isabel Rey, a soprano with a rather soft-cored voice, is an aristocratic, noble Donna Anna. Liliana Nikiteanu is a properly peasant Zerlina, but no dummy. She shines, with Gilfry, in 'La ci darem la mano.' Don Ottavio is sung by the Italian lyric tenor, Robert Saccà, and his 'Il mio tesoro' is a highlight. Oliver Widmer does well by Masetto, although his acting is a bit generic; the voice is flexible and his participation in the various ensembles is fine. (By the way, I could not get 'Batti, batti, o bel Masetto' out of my head for hours after I heard Zerlina sing it to him. Well, if you have to have an earworm it might as well be Mozart, no?)
Matti Salminen is a suitably sonorous Commendatore. Why he appears in person, rather as the statue, at the end of the opera I don't know. This is not a particularly tradition-breaking production although the costumes are a sort of generic early 19th-century sort, and the sets are minimalistic. This is a dark Don Giovanni but the lighting is so expert that one does not have the feeling that one is having to squint to see the singers. This is due partly because the camerawork -- the video was directed by the redoubtable Brian Large -- is expert. There are lots of close-ups and two-shots and they are appropriately chosen, often being of reactions rather than trained on the singer of the moment. A nice touch. Orchestral and choral support is wonderful, all under the direction of a conductor whom I admire more and more: Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
The opera is spread over two DVDs -- for a total of 275 minutes which includes a 'behind the scenes' extra with commentary by Harnoncourt, Bartoli, Gilfry and Rey. Sound is PCM Stereo or Dolby 5.1; Subtitles: Italian, German, French, English, Spanish, Japanese.
I recommend this Don Giovanni for its dramatic as well as its musical values.
Great performances all around
Toni Bernhard | Davis, CA United States | 04/18/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The cast is superb in this production. Let me say up front that because of the elusiveness of the title character, I don't think there's one "right" interpretation of Don Giovanni. That said, I prefer Rodney Gilfry's "spoiled bad boy" Giovanni to Bryn Terfel's Giovanni as psychopath. (Wouldn't women just turn and run from the latter?) In both singing and acting, Gilfry is up to the challenge of changing personas to suit the requirements of the seduction at hand.
Isabel Rey portrays Donna Anna as vulnerable and suffering deeply. She gives a touching performance. As Donna Elvira, Cecilia Bartoli is explosive. It feels as if she's literally (physically and mentally) being torn apart by her simultaneous love and hate for Giovanni. Her singing is hair raising. I love how she takes control of the action during the sextet that comes right after she thwarts Giovanni's seduction of Zerlina. It interestingly suggests that Donna Elvira is the "hero" of the opera. I also appreciate Roberto Sacca's unusual take on Don Ottavio. Instead of playing him as Donna Anna's ineffectual sidekick, Sacca presents a character struggling against his nonviolent nature in order to satisfy his love's desire for revenge. It's as if he's the "anti-Giovanni." Matti Salminen, as The Commendatore, helps make Giovanni's final scene truly terrifying.
Finally, the unique approach to the closing sextet is a memorable way to end this great production."
Drama and comedy - This production has it all
Dexter Tay | 11/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It has been around a decade since I first listened to Don Giovanni and it has remained my favourite opera since. Mozart's operatic genius reached its zenith and did not surpass itself after Don Giovanni; and it is arguably his finest written opera, despite (or in spite of) Beethoven's famous disapprobation of the subject matter as "immoral".
Rodney Gilfry's Don's perhaps the handsomest and most charismatic to date. His looming stature and well-chiselled looks certainly helped in deepening the portrayal of the Don, which he brought to life with ample facial expression and thoughtful sensitivity to the libretto. In terms of voice, enunciation and appearance, Gilfry's got to be the closest to my all-time favourite Don Giovanni, the Swedish Hakon Hagegaard, who, somewhat mysteriously and regrettably vanished from the operatic scene before the turn of the millenium. Some reviewers here had made rather constructive comparisons between Gilfry's and Terfel's Don; the former being more of a spoilt aristocrat, while the latter an insidious psychopath - my idea of the Don straddles somewhat in between, which Hagegaard aptly personified.
The rest of the cast are no less commendable; who could miss Bartolli as Elvira, if the only complain's that she's somewhat larger than life and too prominent for the role that she threatens to steal the scene from the other characters? Isabel Rey plays a "middle-aged" Donna Anna and delivers her role with a light-weight but memorable voice. Liliana Nikiteanu as Zerlina sings with a unsually deep resonant voice for her role but is equally memorable for her fine acting. Leprorello is somewhat detached from his master's exploits but Lazlo Polgar's appearance served the role almost like his own skin.
The strings of the Zurich Opera are not always spot on, and audiences attuned to the clinical perfection of studio recordings of the opera might find some wide pacings under Harnoncourt a little offensive. Not that this is entirely reproachable, but it has the detriment of loosening the dramatic urgency of the music; case-in-point would be the supper scene, the graveyard scene in Act II and the catalogue and quartet scene in Act I.
The stage layout is a little different from the traditional setup in that hidden mechanisms that operate with great subtlety are gainfully employed (i.e. a moving, turnabout stage); though the stage lighting could generally be improved as many of the scenes are simply to dark (for example the party scene). Audiences expecting opulent settings would be slightly disappointed, and the entrance of the masqueraders is as I found it, a little downplayed than what I would have expected. The Don escaped death at the end of Act I with no defense (he merely shoved Don Ottavio aside) and I thought more thought could have been in place. There are a number of extra-musical effects in the supper scene which could distract one from the music (i.e. throwing of wine glasses etc.) but this could largely be justified to intensify the drama at times. The placement of characters on stage could confound some but is generally still within acceptable limits without losing the license to some artistic flexibility and creativity in terms of the mis-en-scene.
This DVD is well worth its price - it comes with a booklet and extras featuring the making-of the opera with interviews of the cast.
A definite must-own for any enthusiast of the masterpiece.
Director versus Librettist
Robert Baksa | new york state | 02/17/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I purchased this DVD on the strength of the opinion of one of Amazon's most active reviewers. However, for once his evaluation let me down. When I see Harnoncourt listed as conductor I am assured that his tempi will be erratic...but usually not better. The sets (when there are any) are pretty awful. The last half of the opera takes place in front of an unidentifiable structure that looks for all the world as if they simply set fire to the set from a previous show and left it on the stage.
Gilfrey is clearly a major talent with a pleasing appearance, beautiful voice and considerable acting abilty. But with his long hair loose in the last scene he looks too much like an American Indian. His side kick, played by the great Hungarian Bass Polgar looks much too seedy to be a servant of a Don with obviously unlimited means to entertain. Leaving him unshaven, and scruffily so, makes him look like a homeless person...would Don Giovanni allow his "frontman" to look like that? Among the singers Bartoli is the biggest drawback. When they first see her, Ottavio and Anna comment on her "noble aspect." Yet Bartoli plays her like a schrieking fishwife. I have never succumbed to Bartoli's charm and see evidence that, since she has been pushing her voice for years, the instrument is showing signs of a badly spread vibrato in loud passages.
The biggest problems, however, lie with the director. In scene one Donna Anna sings about her father "His limbs are cold, he no longer breathes." But she sings this 10 feet away from the corpse while looking intently at the floor in front of her. (she hasn't been near the body as yet) At various points Don Giovanni plants a kiss on Leporello's cheek. It seems totally out of character for the time and for the character's station in life. What purpose does this serve? Has the director read the libretto? Does he understand Italian?
As much as I dislike Vpn Karajan's conductorial tyranny, I have to go back to his version as my DVD of choice."
Pleasurable Don Giovanni
MK | Vancouver, Canada | 10/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a thrilling performance. It is deeply attractive on a number of levels, of which I would stress just one--the stage (and screen) presence of the central male duo: Rodney Gilfry as Don Giovanni and Laszlo Polgar as Leporello. Those two are funny and sexy, often both--delicious to listen to and to look at. Given how much time they spend on stage together, this is crucial for the success of this opera. Both are fantastic singers and actors, and the costume designers and choreographers have done them justice. The pair moves superbly and their costumes give any number of fashion designers a run for their money. Gilfry is magnetic, as he should be. Don Giovanni should singularly arrest the gaze of a viewer, especially a female viewer, and Gilfry does. `Finch'han dal vino' is even faster than on the Gardiner CD version (which is gorgeous as well), and this makes it even more exciting in my book. In its essence, that aria is a musical expression of male display, and it should be sung with dizzying speed. Compliments to Nikolaus Harnoncourt for recognizing this. Cecilia Bartoli is volcanic indeed as Donna Elvira, adding a hefty dose of female charisma to the mix, and Liliana Nikiteanu is fabulous as Zerlina. Overall, a performance that is musically excellent and utterly believable in its electrifying sexual energy."