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Two contrasted performances of quality to considerJan. 10 2014
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This Zurich production under Harnoncourt, filmed in 200i by the experienced Brian Large team, also features lively orchestral contributions and a good forward pace. The setting is traditional and does not contain any obviously worrisome inconsistencies. As such it can be described as a recognisably 'traditional' production.
Don Giovanni as portrayed by Gilfry has the necessary charm as well as enough youthful vigour. (He portrays the part of Danilo in the Merry Widow, also at Zurich, with much charm too). He is thus very believable as a seducer of women. This portrayal therefore adds credence to the roles of both Anna and Zerlina. Sacca as Don Ottavio is a convincing physical characterisation and is well sung but it still remains rather a weak role - however this is mostly to do with the character as written.
Both Zerlina and Masetto are well performed and convincingly portrayed. Leporello acts and sings well throughout and is a good and strong foil for Giovanni. The concluding scene with a strongly portrayed Commendatore and a markedly more dissolute, long and greasy-haired Giovanni builds well to its fiery end with a clear sense of final terror, but not remorse, clearly communicated by Gilfry. Donna Elvira, as portrayed by Bartoli, is more a matter of personal taste. There are some who find her `over the top' in her acted and sung levels of outrage and stridency. However, taken on its own terms, this is still acceptable and is certainly musically spot-on as one would expect from Bartoli.
The recording is good visually and sonically with clear surround sound (Dolby 5.1) while not quite being up with the latest in high definition technology.
As an alternative option for this opera I would suggest considering the production at Aix-en Provence conducted by Harding. This is staged in the most minimalist terms - wooden poles and benches which are moved around to take on different meanings and totally devoid of time or place - intentionally universal therefore but with the message of the essential character types being applied to modern times by means of current clothing. The crucial destruction of Giovanni at the end with such limited means is extraordinarily effective.
The performance is clearly on an outdoor stage at night with dark backgrounds. The stormy weather adds to the drama with hair and clothing blowing in the wind and including real thunder! The singing and acting throughout is simply superlative by a young and highly skilled team. Peter Mattei as Giovanni exudes charm in abundance coupled with extraordinary physical vigour. Delunsch as Elvira manages to chase hard but avoids stridency - in fact the whole cast is inspired resulting in a truly memorable experience.
The director defends his minimal staging on the grounds that it focusses everything on the drama of the interaction between the characters. It does - and it works. Harding, conducting the fine Mahler Chamber orchestra, keeps a cracking pace and sense of building electricity. The whole thing is well recorded both visually and sonically (Dolby 5.1). This is a terrific performance of considerable musical and dramatic electricity.
I would suggest that the Aix-en-Provence production has the dramatic edge, but Harnoncourt has the edge as a more traditional production. Both offer excellent singing so final choice will be a matter taste. My suggestion, given such a disparate pair of performances, both very convincing in their differing ways, would be to purchase both. Mozart's inspiration certainly justifies such a consideration.