Fine performances but lacks the sustained tension that's a h
Toni Bernhard | Davis, CA United States | 11/20/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I thought the whole was less than the sum of its parts in this Zurich Opera production. The individual performances are fine indeed, but the production lacks the sustained tension that makes this opera such a masterpiece - sustained tension that grips us from that first dissonant chord of the overture and doesn't let go until Giovanni descends into Hell. The lack of tension is mostly due to the slow pace of the orchestra in many of the opera's most dramatic moments. That slowness also takes the sparkle out of the comedic moments in the opera. (For example, the "Catalogue aria" seems to go on forever.)
Simon Keenlyside does a fine job as Don Giovanni. He has flawless technique as a singer and as an actor. Every note and every action is executed with clear intention. His "Deh, vieni alla finestra" is seductive and mesmerizing. My only criticism is that Keenlyside is too much of an ensemble player (in this regard, I respectfully disagree with the reviewer who praised him for this). His Giovanni is not a larger-than-life presence and is bit too casual in manner (the reviewer who invoked Sinatra's "rat pack' seemed spot-on to me). This Giovanni just doesn't dominate the opera and this is another reason why it lacks the sustained tension it should have.
As Leporello, Anton Scharinger has a wonderfully deep baritone voice. It blends beautifully with Keenlyside's lighter baritone. Scharinger's acting is one of the highlights of the production. It's clear that at times he fancies himself to be the real Don!
I was pleasantly surprised by Eva Mei as Donna Anna. I've never heard her sing with such power and flexibility. Her performance of the extremely difficult "Or sai chi l'onore" is stunning. Malin Hartelius does a fine job as Donna Elvira. She sings with great expressiveness and pathos. You can feel how she is simultaneously drawn to and repelled by Giovanni (as is Leporello...as are we).
As he is on the recent Salzburg DVD of "Don Giovanni" (which I can't recommend - see my review if you're interested), the Polish tenor Piotr Beczala is outstanding as Don Ottavio. It's nice to hear a baritonal tenor in this role for a change. He gives a full-bodied, yet moving rendition of "Dalla sua pace" and navigates the difficult runs and sustained notes of "Il mio tesoro" with great skill and beauty. The latter aria is a highlight of Act II. For a breathtaking four minutes, Beczala simply takes over the opera! Martina Jankova plays Zerlina with real spunk and has a lively soprano voice. As Masetto, Reinhard Mayr shows the requisite anger and jealousy. And Alfred Muff's bass makes your hair stand on end when, as the Commendatore, he takes center stage in Act II. In short, there's not a weak player in the cast.
Finally, I'm generally not a fan of the European fad of staging 18th and 19th Century operas in 20th Century settings, but it works okay (even the dark glasses standing in for masks in the heavenly "Trio of the Masks"). The action appears to be set in a posh mid-1900's nightclub or lounge and could be anywhere in Europe or even the U.S. (Las Vegas comes to mind). The concept works because the modernizing is mostly confined to the costumes and sets. As a result, we are thankfully spared the self-conscious symbolism injected into opera by so many contemporary European directors -- be it people stuck to walls or extra characters thrown in as alter egos. I've seen both in recent productions, as if the message (or purposeful ambiguity of message) in Mozart's operas doesn't stand on its own. The only scene in which the updated setting doesn't work is the ensemble entrance of Zerlina and Masetto. This is so clearly a peasant song and dance piece that it doesn't work in this ritzy setting.
There are many fine productions of this opera on DVD. I recommend this one, with the reservations expressed above. My personal favorite remains another Zurich Opera production: 2001, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting, featuring Rodney Gilfry and Cecilia Bartoli."
Musically and visually, a Superb Production.
RENS | Dover, NH USA | 11/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Simon Keenlyside is the Don of Dons in my book and he does indeed sing and act the role to perfection in this carefully thought through yet passionate production from Zurich. But Keenlyside does not steal the show - he's too fine an artist to play that game. The other members of the cast sing and act convincingly, working together with Keenlyside, suggesting the mutual respect and timing of a repertory cast the members of which know one another well. The musical direction and orchestral playing realize all of the power and delicacy and the cruelty and comedy of Mozart's score.
The set design is simple in concept yet rich in color, texture, and lighting, making effective use of red, black, gold and white fabrics of various sorts in the costuming, the stage furniture, or the subtly moving curtains that not only provide for a set change but also contribute to the shifting moods of the drama. The use of reflecting mirrors and rear projection adds to the sense that the Don's world is founded upon deception - deception of others and of himself.
The director's approach honors Mozart and Da Ponte and is definitely not yet another example of self-consciously "modern" Euro-trash. The time and place is not 18th century Spain but an unspecified period in the last hundred years or more. Is it London in the 1920s? Or New York City in the 1950s? Or Berlin in the 1990s? Paris just before World War I? There is even a passing aura of Vienna in the late 19th century. Is the setting the lobby of a grand hotel? Or is it an exclusive night club? The opera takes place in no time, all time, and our time. The scene of the action is an interior public space in which all kinds of behavior takes place, be it formal or intimate, violent or funny, elegant or decadent. It is the society which has created the Don and in which the Don acts to destroy or damage the lives of others. We see ourselves and our own world on this stage.
I highly recommend this DVD. There are other outstanding, insightful productions of Don Giovanni also available on DVD, such as Maazel/Raimondi, Smith/Perry, Harnoncourt/Gilfry, and most recently Harding/Mattei, and I wouldn't be without any of them. Each offers me a different experience of perhaps the most difficult of all of Mozart's operas to realize on the stage. On the other hand, there are the multiple challenges presented by The Magic Flute! Which leads us back to Simon Keenlyside, in this case his incomprable interpretations of the role of Papageno. Don Giovanni, Leporello, Papageno, Figaro, the Count: Keenlyside has all of these roles mastered, in part because he is wise enough never to sing any of them quite the same way from one production to the next."
ELEGANT AND EARTHY PRODUCTION
Jesse Knight | woburn ma usa | 11/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Don't be put off by the cover photo, there is not that much blood on display in this production. What dominates is an elegant 1930s look with what appears to be high quality, for the most part, "off the shelf" costumes.
There is a fair amount of dressing and undressing, so underware is displayed, yet there is no nudity. Unlike the Salzburg 2006 (M22) production the underware is not as revealing and there is far less of it. Zurich has obtained a good balance between elegant and earthy with this production.
Best of all is the Elvira of Malin Hartelius which is true to the libretto. She is portrayed as a deeply hurt woman who is not insane, but very conflicted. Hartelius uses her considerable interpretive skills in such a way that I did not find her voice too small for the role.
Keenlyside is not as dramatic a Don as Siepi was in 1954, but his singing is more accurate. He is more a Sinatra "rat pack" type of Don acting wise. He fits into the 1930 concept very well.
I expected to be very disappointed by Eva Mei as Donna Anna, but she did fairly well. Lack of personality is the main problem.
Everyone else is very good, and they work well together.
Welser-Moest deserves special credit for exceptional conducting which allows the singers to sing without screaming, yet not losing the drama in the process. Sound engineering (at least on the LPCM track) is the best I have heard yet."
Silly in parts
M. J. Gray | New Zealand | 03/25/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Like a previous reviewer, I bought this simply to see Simon Keenlyside as the Don. I have no quibbles with any of the singers (although Donna Anna is a bit plastic), nor with the New Look costumes, or even with the set. At least you can see what is going on. However, as another reviewer said, this production lacks dramatic tension. And some of the action is just silly. Why, when Don Ottavio sings the wonderfully beautiful Dalla sua pace, about his love of and concern for Donna Anna, is he surrounded by disrobing women? And why does he sing Il me tesoro as if it is Donna Elvira he commending to Masetto's and Zerlina's care? And the Catalogue Aria is just tedious. Never mind, it's all right to watch from another room."