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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni - Dramma giocoso in two acts K527 (Vienna version) (1788)
Don Giovanni - Thomas Allen (baritone); Leporello - Ferruccio Furlanetto (bass-baritone); Don Ottavio - Kjell Magnus Sandve (tenor); Masetto - Reinhard Dorn (bass-baritone); Donna Anna - Carolyn James (soprano); Elvira - Carol Vaness (soprano); Zerlina - Andrea Rost (soprano); Commendatore - Mathias Hvlle (bass)
Orchestra of the Cologne Opera/James Conlon
Director: Michael Hampe
Costume Designers: Carlo Diappo; Ulrike Zimmermann
Video Director: Jose Montes-Bacquer
rec. live, Cologne Opera, 1991
Sound format: PCM Stereo, DD 2.0
Picture format: Colour. NTSC. 16.9 full screen
Booklet notes: English, French, German
Subtitles: English, French, German, Dutch
ARTHAUS MUSIC DVD 102319 [175:00]

In 1786, having settled in Vienna, Mozart commenced collaboration with the poet Da Ponte. This was to realise the immensely popular Le Nozze de Figaro with its taut plot and integrated music. The work was immediately widely acclaimed and was then produced in Prague with unprecedented success. On the back of this success the manager of the Prague Opera commissioned a new opera for production the following autumn. Mozart returned to Vienna and again sought the cooperation of Da Ponte who agreed to set the verses of Don Giovanni.
Don Giovanni was well received in Prague. However, for a production in Vienna the following year there were problems. The tenor couldn't sing the Act 2 aria Il Mio Tesoro (CH.55) and Mozart substituted Dalla sua pace, better suited to his abilities, in Act 1 (CH.26). The role of Elvira was to be sung in Vienna by a protigie of Salieri; she demanded a scena for herself and Mozart added the accompanied recitative In quali eccessi and aria Mi Tradi in act 2 (CHs.56 and 57). Common performance and recorded custom, followed here, is to incorporate the later Vienna additions into the Prague original albeit often at different points in the story.
Without swift movement between the scenes a performance of Don Giovanni can sometimes seem a hotch-potch. I remember Peter Hall's Glyndebourne production in the 1970s achieved this with flexible rotating sets that could swiftly become a balcony or a staircase. Certainly, dramatic cohesion is lost without swift scene-changes. This present DVD seems more of a film of a production rather than a live recording, although applause is evident at the end. I suspect it may have been derived from a series of performances with a little photographic editorial magic so the various scenes merge, one into the next, with minimal intervening break.
This performance has been around on video since 2000 when it was described as 'aspect 4:3'. It is denoted here as '6:9 aspect'. It is certainly full screen without any need for change in aspect ratio on my TV, or obvious distortion of the view or of the singers or sets.
This Michael Hampe production is a traditional staging, the costumes likewise, although Don Giovanni's wigs are somewhat strange. I first saw Thomas Allen in this role in the early 1970s. For me, at that time, and since, he was the ultimate demonic rake, sadistic and cruel in his treatment of women. He was the dominant true baritone Giovanni throughout that and the following decade, as the role increasingly became a favourite of bass-baritones. Vocally he is not as good here as on the La Scala recording made four years earlier and conducted by Muti, (Opus Arte in 4:3 aspect), but his acting, sneer and snarl as well as the physical violence he threatens and practises, are as convincing as ever. As Leporello, his servant, Ferruccio Furlanetto is outstanding in vocal and acted characterization with consummate beauty of tone in his native language. A few years later he was to become the outstanding basso cantante as Verdi's Philip and Fiesco. His catalogue aria is to relish (CH.11). Reinhard Dorn, rather large of physique, sings adequately and acts well as Masetto. As Donna Anna's suitor Don Ottavio, Kjell Magnus Sandve is not ideal. Whilst avoiding looking and acting like the ultimate wimp, his tone is edgy and lacks the ideal vocal mellifluousness in his two arias (CHs.26 and 57). Mathias Hvlle is a convincing Commendatore in both the opening scene, the graveyard and as he comes to accept Don Giovanni's invitation to supper. The statue's appearance at Giovanni's supper, then taking his hand, before despatching him to hell, are feeble as staging; I have never seen this dramatic scene so weakly realised, live or recorded.
As to the female singers, so vital in this opera, Hungarian soprano Andrea Rost is a fuller-toned Despina than many, and no worse for that. She is suitably pert of figure and demeanour. This recording was made as she was being seen at the best addresses in the light lyric and coloratura soprano roles. However, the best female singing comes from Carolyn James and Carol Vaness as Anna and Elvira respectively. I was impressed by James's vocal tone, legato and expression (CHs.7 and 62) but I could not remember hearing her previously. Looking back, to search her pedigree, I was reminded that she was a winner of the Met competition in 1988, along with two other female singers by the names of Renie Fleming and Susan Graham. I do not think there has been a year like that since. She is somewhat limited in her visual impact in the role by her size. Whether that accounted for her decline in appearances at the Met I do not know, but all I could find of her later in the1990s was as a mezzo in a second rate cast of Il Trovatore. As Donna Elvira, Giovanni's cruel cast-off, Carol Vaness is very good indeed in both her acting and singing. In Mi tradi and the preceding recitative (CHs.56-57), her range of expression and characterisation is as good as it gets.
Musically the performance is undistinguished under James Conlon. The film definition is nowhere near up to today's HD standard. Colour definition is vague and the focus woolly at times. The sound is shown as Stereo DD 2.0. There is nothing spectacular or much presence about it; double mono might be a better description. The English subtitles are a mess, giving only half the story for those who are new to the opera.
Robert J Farr