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Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

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W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni
16 Mar 2008

MOZART: Don Giovanni

This an intriguing two-disc DVD set. The primary disc is the opera itself, while the other disc is a film called “Adieu Mozart” that tells us about the unique relationship Mozart had with the City of Prague.

W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni (Andrei Beschasny), Il Commendatore (Dalibor Jedlicka), Donna Anna (Nadezhda Petrenko), Don Ottavio (Vladimír Dolezal), Donna Elvira (Jirina Marková), Leporello (Ludek Vele), Masetto (Zdenek Harvánek), Zerlina (Alice Randová), Prague National Theatre Chorus and Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras (cond.)
Live on 1 December 1991 at the Estates Theatre, Prague

Supraphon SU 7012-9 [2DVDs]

$29.99  Click to buy

The setting for the opera is The Estates Theater in Prague. It existed in Mozart’s time where he conducted two world premieres — Don Giovanni and Clemenza di Tito. Between 1983 and 1991, the theater was reconstructed to look just as it did in Mozart’s time.

The opera as we see it on the DVD’s is a film of the first opera performed in the reconstructed theater. There is an interesting aspect of the film of the opera production that seeks to connect the present production to the past and vice versa. In a day where we see opera houses and directors looking to update and to be more innovative with traditional operas, there is still another way of touching the audience with the historic and respected works of this master composer.

The first scenes of the film are of Andrei Beschasny, who is our Don Giovanni, walking to the opera house through the cobblestone streets of Prague. He is wearing a navy blue jogging suit and white tennis shoes and has an apple in his hand. The first scenes of the opera, following the overture, show Beschasny in full makeup entering the stage from the rear and the action then begins. We have made the transition from now to then.

For the next two and a half hours I was thoroughly entertained by a well-done production of the opera with all the lush period costumes and sets that might have been similar to what Mozart himself used. In the scene where the Commendatore ( sung by Dalibor Jedlicka) interrupts the liaison between the Don and Donna Anna we see a shirtless Don who is indignant at having his pleasure cut short. The death scene continues as he struggles into his red shirt and then kills the Commendatore.

Ludek Vele is an amazing Leporello. I hasten to mention here that I am not familiar with any of the singers so this was an adventure in listening to them and having no preconceived ideas of what they should sound like. But, back to Vele. He has a nice baritone voice, a bit more rugged sounding than that of Beschasny, which works well. He is a convincing actor who leaves no doubt about his conflicted relationship with his master.

Nedezhda Petrenko is Donna Anna. This is a soprano with a voice that can go shrill at times but is not unpleasant to listen to for the most part. She had a good grasp of the role. Shock at first when her father is killed and then determined to bring down the perpetrator. Ottavio and Elvira sung by Vladimir Dolezal and Jirina Markova, respectively, made a good couple. Markova is a passionate singer who I found engaging.

If there was, in my opinion, a weak link among the singers it was with Zerlina and Masetto ( Zdenek Harvanek and Alice Randova). There did not seem to be a good “connection” between these two and until the very end I thought they were singing “at” one another rather than “to” one another.

The banquet scene, always a highlight for me in Don Giovanni, was exquisitely done. The opulence of the Don’s palace was all there and the tables were laden with food. The production does a very good job of showing how the mood of the people changes from the beginning of the scene when they are all in “banquet” mood until the end when the Don has to escape.

But as we all know Don Giovanni is not to be deterred from his need to conquer even more women and add to his “catalogue”. The opera proceeds with great skill and lots of good emotional singing until its inevitable end. Anyone watching this production cannot help be intrigued by the timeliness of this old opera and its relevance to today’s audiences. Mozart was the rarest of men…one who gave us his very soul in his legacy of music.

Cheryl Dowden

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