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Joe Banno
The Classical Review, May 2011

MOZART, W.A.: Don Giovanni (Salzburg Festival, 2008) (NTSC) 2072548
MOZART, W.A.: Don Giovanni (Salzburg Festival, 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 2072544

For the 250th Mozart birthday celebrations in 2006, stage director Claus Guth devised a revelatory production of Le nozze di Figaro for the Salzburg Festival (issued shortly afterwards on Deutsche Grammophon DVD and Blu-ray).

Creating a pre-war, upstairs/downstairs mise-en-scène for the piece—with most of the assignations and sotto voce conspiracies confined to the landings of a stark stairwell in the Almaviva townhouse—Guth mined Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto for all its illicit sexuality and introspective self-torture, almost as if seen through the lens of Ingmar Bergman. Mozartian fundamentalists seeking the manicured surfaces and merely implied adulteries that a literal reading would have offered no doubt greeted the production with stony silence. But Guth tapped the work’s dark-night-of-the-soul undercurrents more arrestingly than any other production in recent memory.

Guth returned to Salzburg to complete his Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy in 2008 with Don Giovanni, and in 2009, with Così fan tutte—productions that have recently been issued on DVD and Blu-ray by EuroArts and Unitel Classica.

If neither reading quite exhibits the power and theatrical cohesion of his Figaro, they’re nevertheless full of interesting ideas and terrific performances. Once again, Guth has yet to meet a subtext he doesn’t like. Donna Anna is fully complicit in her sexual escapade with Giovanni, and spends the opera manufacturing lies to throw Ottavio off the scent. Giovanni, for his part, spends the opera strung-out on heroin and appears to be in the agonizing thrall of an even stronger sexual addiction.

Henry Fogel
Fanfare, January 2011

Musically there is much pleasure to be had—and I can recommend this as an audio recording if one averts one’s eyes from the screen. Bertrand de Billy conducts with an almost perfect balance between incisiveness and suppleness. The pace is quick but never rushed, the phrasing exquisitely sensitive. Christopher Maltman sings the role brilliantly, and carries out the character he is asked to play with conviction. It isn’t Maltman’s fault that his singing emphasizes brutality and nastiness at the expense of seductiveness. This is what the production demands of him. One good thing is that Erwin Schrott’s Leporello is the same physical type—making the identity switch credible for one of the rare times in my experience. Their two voices have a similar timbre, as well. The cast, in fact, is superb throughout. Annette Dasch and Dorothea Röschmann sing Anna and Elvira as well as anyone singing today, handling both the long line and the technical demands of these grueling roles easily. Ekaterina Siurina’s Zerlina is also fine, managing with ease the showy coloratura that Mozart wrote into that duet with Leporello. I wish Anatoli Kotscherga’s voice were a bit blacker and more solid; the Commendatore should overwhelm with his vocal presence. But he is more than adequate—and Alex Esposito’s lyrical Masetto rounds out a truly superb cast.

Production values are very high. Brian Large’s direction for the cameras is fine; it captures the production faithfully, and never distracts with tricks or camera changes that are too abrupt or too frequent. The Vienna Philharmonic plays beautifully, and the sound is perfectly balanced and natural in quality.

Chris Mullins
Opera Today, December 2010

MOZART, W.A.: Cosi fan tutte (Salzburg Festival, 2009) (NTSC) 2072538
MOZART, W.A.: Don Giovanni (Salzburg Festival, 2008) (NTSC) 2072548

Once a preserve of opulent traditional productions, the summer Salzburg Festival has become a destination for viewing more cutting edge stagings.

Perhaps the best-known of such from recent seasons is the Willy Decker take on Verdi’s La Traviata, a contemporary classic of a production that will soon debut at the Metropolitan Opera. The operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have a special history for Salzburg (one of these DVDs has a title card that states “From the House of Mozart”). Director Claus Goth brought his updated vision of Don Giovanni to the Festival in 2008, and his Così fan tutte was recorded for performance in 2009. Both productions are in contemporary dress, with grim chuckles in place of any buoyant cheer produced by former Salzburg productions. This is Mozart as misanthrope, pouring out his melodious commentary on the sad and/or despicable characters of Lorenzo da Ponte’s librettos. Well sung, sharply acted, impeccably staged—both DVDs present classy performances. Just be prepared for a distinctly chilly atmosphere.

Christian Schmidt’s stage design for the Così offers the clean white walls, metal railings and glass panels of a cliched contemporary loft home. An ironic intent makes itself felt as the story of the two pairs of young lovers manipulated into deceit by a cynical older man proceeds—the attractive veneer of the set complements the good looks of the younger leads, and an emptiness behind the good looks of both the surroundings and the characters also makes itself felt. That doesn’t take away the culpability of Don Alfonso and even Despina; the Don seems more cruel in his scheming than ever, and that rubs off on the sour comedy of Despina’s antics.

The quartet of young lovers submit themselves almost too well into this scheme, with not much personality in Miah Persson’s Fiordilgi, Isabel Leonard’s Dorabella, Florian Boesch’s Guglielmo, or Topi Lehtipuu’s Ferrando. They sing cleanly, manage the Mozartean line well, and look their parts. Mozart does give each of them at least one major set piece to bring to life, and here is where the director’s clinical vision may have inhibited the singers’ ability to “stand out.” Bo Skovhus, on the other hand, gets to camp it up a bit as Guth choreographs as much as directs the Don and Despina—there’s a lot of mock dancing and posing. Skovhus lets a scratchiness in his production loose a little too often, however, for a character probably intended to be a bit more seductive in his wheedling. Patricia Petibon’s Despina reigns in the cuteness for a sort of hyperactivity, more ominous than charming. In her recorded recital discs she is a more interesting singer than indicated here—Despina offers no real challenges.

One unmitigated strength of the performance comes from Adam Fischer’s muscular, propulsive direction of the Wiener Philharmoniker. The score comes across with a youthful energy appropriate to the characters while suggesting the aggression behind the Don’s gambit. Guth’s direction may not age well—at times it already feels self-conscious—but as one alternate vision of Così, it is effective in context.

The Don Giovanni Guth stages is stronger overall than the Così, at least partly because it has a more high-powered cast than that of the Così. Set designer Schmidt here provides a very realistic pine forest, the only discernible reason for which seems to your reviewer to center on differentiating Guth’s setting from the famous Calixto Bieto one (preserved on DVD in a performance at Barcelona’s Liceu). Bieto used modern dress (as does Guth) and elements of an organized crime mileux to highlight the libretto’s potent and dangerous mixture of violence and sexuality. Guth has the same concern, and most of his “big ideas” come across as vaguely desperate efforts to make his vision distinct from Bieto’s. So in the action under the prologue, we see Christopher Maltman’s Don get shot by the Commendatore, a grievous stomach wound that seems to bother the Don from time to time during the rest of the action, until he finally succumbs with the Commendatore’s reappearance at the end—but propelled into hell by Leporello and a syringe of heroin. To underscore the darkness of his vision, Guth chose an edition of the score without the “happy ending” ensemble, which Bieto memorably used to underlay the victorious “good guys” mutilating the Don’s corpse.

A vocally strong, physically seductive group of singers work hard for Guth. Maltman apparently spent as much time in the gym as in the rehearsal hall, if not more, and if not as muscular as his physique, his voice still ripples with strength. Erwin Schrott’s Leporello is no sad sidekick, but almost as dangerously sexy as his master. Nonetheless, Schrott also has the comic chops to portray the character’s frustration and barely contained resentment. In a wimpy suit and glasses, Matthew Polenzani could have been yet another feckless Don Ottavio, but his expert singing gives his character some needed backbone. In an imaginative touch, Guth has Ottavio dig out his cell phone when the car he and Donna Anna are riding in “breaks down” in the forest.

The women are a bit less distinctive. Annette Dasch in particular lacks the full armory for Donna Anna , a difficult role that requires ample strength and beauty. Dorothea Röeschmann doesn’t portray Donna Elvira as a harpy, thankfully; on the other hand, her interpretation is almost too neutral for a role that should have some edge. Ekaterina Siurina as Zerlina and Alex Espositio as Masetto are modestly effective (the booklet credit list amusingly assigns each of these singers to the other’s role!).

Bertrand de Billy is the conductor here, leading an entirely professional performance. In spots the rather spare piano used for recitatives seems anachronistic.

Salzburg’s tickets have the reputation of being both scarce and expensive, so for those who would like a great view of the stage and to keep their wallets full, these DVDs are to be appreciated. Neither one of these stagings may become classics such as the Dexter Traviata, but they both have much to reward the attentive viewer.

Jerome R. Sehulster
The Connecticut Post, December 2010

Claus Guth, at the Salzburg Festival 2008, puts Don Giovanni (two DVDs, EuroArts), deep in an evergreen forest where we witness a lot of drugs and sex going on. A buff and manic Don (Christopher Maltman) takes his many women as they cross his path; Guth accentuates their personality differences and motives, but it’s really all about the magnetic Don (even the final sextet is cut, as is Ottavio’s “Il mio tesoro”).

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, December 2010

MOZART, W.A.: Don Giovanni (Salzburg Festival, 2008) (NTSC) 2072548
MOZART, W.A.: Don Giovanni (Salzburg Festival, 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 2072544

I was hardly surprised to find second-hand copies of this 2008 Salzburg Festival recording already on offer on the web at knock-down prices: you will almost certainly judge it either a masterpiece or an outrageous failure. It’s far more controversial than Bertrand de Billy’s earlier DVD recording at the Gran Teatro del Liceo, which so much impressed Colin Clarke in 2006 (Opus Arte OA0921D, Recording of the Month—see review.) It wasn’t well-received at Salzburg and I was prepared to dislike it, with Claus Guth’s reputation for gloomy productions. Wasn’t Don Giovanni supposed to be a dramma giocoso? In the event, I was very pleasantly surprised in many respects.

I’ve seen the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s contribution described as mediocre—apparently most of the booing was directed at Bertrand de Billy and the orchestra—but they give a most satisfactory account of the overture. I’m not sure how many evenings’ performances were combined to obtain the best, but I was never aware of any inadequacies on their part and there was, indeed, no booing at the end of the DVD. I’m sure, however, that there’s always an element of ‘we can play Mozart in our sleep’ for the Vienna Phil, as there is with the music of the Strauss family on New Year’s Day.

As the overture progresses we see a cameo of the fight to come, between the Commendatore and the Don—in the Christian Schmidt designed pine forest which forms the setting of this performance. Giovanni is fatally wounded by a gunshot from the Commendatore as the latter lies dying from Don Giovanni’s blow. Thus it transpires that the opera covers the last three hours of the profligate’s life, with his life-blood visibly oozing away. It’s a good idea, but it doesn’t really work. Christopher Maltman’s Don is all too alive, both physically—not surprisingly, his impressive physique is commented on in the booklet—and in vocal terms. Occasional spasms of pain are seen to cross his face and he almost faints as early as Leporello’s catalogue aria, but he soon comes back to life as he invites the wedding party to his palace.

As Leporello sings Notte e giorno faticar, his bare-chested master is at his work of seduction in the background with Donna Anna, who doesn’t seem to be entirely seriously resisting him. So far, so good—the woods, which play such a large part in the Germanic psyche, may well seem a more likely setting for the attempted seduction than the usual opening in front of the Commendatore’s house in Seville. There’s plenty of realism too—when Donna Anna sings of avenging her father’s blood, there it is on her hands—and soon it’s smeared on Don Ottavio, too.

There’s plenty of blood around in the next scene as well, as Leporello tries to tend to his wounded and bleeding master—accompanied by drug-shooting. There’s more of this later, with beer cans and joints being handed around to Zerlina and Masetto, though hardly to the extent suggested by one reviewer of the original production, who typified the concept of the Don as an anaemic fixer and denier, anämischer Fixer und Neinsager, living in the forest solely to smoke pot and swill beer with Leporello—fiffen, fixen und saufen. Fin ch’han del vino, usually dubbed the ‘champagne aria’, becomes a lager-can Bierfest.

The scene now revolves to reveal Donna Elvira waiting in a corrugated-iron bus-shelter. Giovanni climbs on the roof as Leporello sings his catalogue aria. If Maltman’s Giovanni is physically impressive, Leporello is played by Erwin Schrott in a suitably picaresque manner, singing the catalogue aria in a throwaway manner which proves oddly effective.

Giovanni’s seduction aria Là ci darem la mano was the very first excerpt from this opera that I heard—sung on a 10-inch 78 rpm disc in German (Reich mir die Hand, mein Leben) so it’s become a crucial point for me in judging performances of the whole opera. I’m happy to say that Maltman and Ekaterina Siurina sing the duet to perfection. I’m not too sure about the subsequent arrival of Don Ottavio and Donna Anna on the scene by car—with the bonnet up and urgent calls to the repair services.

Some aspects of the romp-in-the-woods scenery don’t work at all: it’s hard to imagine Giovanni summoning Donna Elvira’s servant from beneath her window on such a set—where is the finestra to which he bids her come?—and the final banquet has to take place largely in the drink-and-drug-induced imaginations of Giovanni and Leporello. There’s no Commendatore statue—merely a storm-broken tree—and the banquet takes place with the table cloth over a tree stump. Giovanni wears a Burger King paper crown and the fine wine which he praises again becomes a can of lager.

This Donna Anna takes off her shoes and outer garments and walks calmly into the woods with pistol in hand, evidently determined to end it all, with Ottavio undecided what to do about it, which I felt out of sync with the more positive view of his role projected earlier in the production. It wouldn’t work at all, of course, if the final ensemble had not been omitted.

The singing is pretty good from all concerned. Excellently as Annette Dasch sings the part of Donna Anna, her diction is not always ideal. I see that Svetlana Doneva stepped into the role on certain nights when Dasch was indisposed, which perhaps explains why her diction was not of the best on the nights when she did perform. Perhaps, too, it explains the slight sense of occasional strain at the top of her register and volume. I don’t want to make too much of my reservations: like all the other female singers, her performance went a long way to make up for some of the oddities of the production.

Dorothea Röschmann as Elvira does even more to win me over. Even those who detested the production mostly agreed that the singing made up for a great deal.

The men, too, sing extremely well. I’ve already mentioned the extent to which Maltman’s voice is as powerful as his physique, but he can do soft and gentle, too, when it’s appropriate. Schrott almost steals the show from him in acting terms and his singing is also one of the highlights of the performance—just don’t expect the mellifluous tones of Bryn Terfel. Even when fooling around, both sing very well. When master and servant exchange clothes and roles in Act II, Maltman effectively mimics Schrott’s spaced-out mannerisms.

Matthew Polenzani largely rescues Don Ottavio from the role of wimp to which he is often reduced, with Della sua pace receiving a round of applause, and Alex Esposito makes a convincing Masetto, vocally and dramatically, in a role which is not always easy to bring off. Inevitably, though, even he is down-staged and out-sung by Siurina as Zerlina and Polenzani is also overshadowed by Dasch’s Donna Anna. Anatoli Kotscherga sounds suitably commanding as the Commendatore.

Like the 1788 Viennese libretto, this production omits the final ensemble—after Giovanni’s descent to Hell, the rest is silence. Though this flies in the face of almost unanimous modern practice, I found it extremely effective.

The recording sounds good, even when played via television speakers—it’s even better when played through an AV receiver and large speakers.

The picture quality is very good throughout, even on DVD. With up-scaling from my player, I can’t imagine that the higher density version Blu-ray is much of an improvement on this occasion, apart from the kind of picture ‘noise’ from the grille of the car, which the newer format usually corrects. My copy suffered from one brief dropout near the end of the second DVD, which was a trifle annoying but not disastrous. I note that the Blu-ray is currently less expensive than the DVD from one supplier.

Robert Croan
Opera News, December 2010

MOZART, W.A.: Don Giovanni (Salzburg Festival, 2008) (NTSC) 2072548
MOZART, W.A.: Don Giovanni (Salzburg Festival, 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 2072544

For his personal vision of Don Giovanni, director Claus Guth has created a menacing, present-day Forest of Arden, in which Don Giovanni kills the Commendatore with a large fallen tree branch, while the old man gets to shoot his murderer (not fatally) with a pistol. In this production, recorded at the 2008 Salzburg Festival, the Don and Leporello are buff, handsome hoodlums who shoot up a lot and spend much of the opera high on heroin, but they don’t seem to get any pleasure from their escapades. By the end, a debauched Don is wearing a child’s Burger King crown, believing that beer is wine and succumbing to an overdose rather than the flames of Hell. The three women are, for the most part, willing participants, though Donna Anna—crushed and repentant—goes off to shoot herself after “Non mi dir.”

Guth’s concept will not be to every taste, but much of it works surprisingly well, in large part due to the superb cast and excellent musical realization under conductor Bertrand de Billy. This is not the Don Giovanni most opera-lovers know. De Billy uses Mozart’s 1788 Vienna revision, which means we lose Leporello’s “Ah, pietà, signori miei,” Don Ottavio’s “Il mio tesoro” and the entire epilogue—making the end abrupt and jarring. We do get a lovely “Dalla sua pace” from Matthew Polenzani’s nerdy Ottavio, a virtuoso vocalization of “Mi tradì” from Dorothea Röschmann’s sex-crazed Donna Elvira and a rarely included, thoroughly delightful buffo duet for Zerlina and Leporello.

Guth gives us a unique romp in the woods in Christian Schmidt’s limited unit set. Christopher Maltman’s cold-blooded Don is downright scary, the more so because he sings so seductively and exudes a primal sexuality. His serenade is irresistibly vocalized. Erwin Schrott’s manipulative Leporello is even more alluring than his master, vocally more resonant and dynamically subtle, though not so smooth or so accurate in musical details. His “Madamina,” staged in a shelter with both the Don and Elvira present, is masterful in fitting the music to the onstage situation.

The women are technically accomplished, each delineating a distinctly different personality by vocal color, to match the physical portrayal. As Donna Anna, Annette Dasch takes every opportunity to get another moment with Don Giovanni, her bright timbre suggesting both authority and vulnerability. She makes it clear by facial and vocal nuance that she is lying to Don Ottavio in her Act I narration and later in the recitative that precedes “Non mi dir.”

Röschmann brings a juicy, mezzo-ish sound to Donna Elvira’s music. She breaks the fioritura awkwardly in her entrance aria but sails easily through the long-breathed lines of “Mi tradì” (which is transposed down a half step). Ekaterina Siurina’s Zerlina is pure joy, in both sight and sound, a strong beauty who can obviously take care of herself and Masetto, too. When she threatens Schrott’s macho Leporello with a gun and then nearly succeeds in hanging him in their reinstated duet, we fear more for him than for her.

Polenzani, shorn of his character’s showiest moment, sings artistically but makes a bland impression. Alex Esposito is a believably ineffectual Masetto, while Anatoli Kotscherga is a persuasive Commendatore, more flesh and blood than stone.

Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, August 2010

Mozart – Cosi fan tutte [2072538] & Don Giovanni [2072548] are here as separate Unitel Classica and EuroArts DVD sets (with the ORF) from Wiener Philharmoniker performances staged by Claus Guth and directed for video by Brian Large. Though we have covered both classics in Blu-ray editions by other artists, these are just as good as and even better than past productions with an uncanny sense of effectiveness that both updates the works for modern times, yet keeps all the classical sense and feel intact, which is not easy to do. Instead of mere time transplants, the performances have the flow that brings life to the original work in ways that make you forget you are watching something created a long time ago. The result is two shows that may be long, but are constantly involving and ones to recommend as among the best Mozart on video to date. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 video may both be a little soft and weak with motion blur, some noise and some detail issues, but I would love to see Blu-ray editions, which both deserve. The DTS 5.0 is strong on both releases and even more so than the Dolby Digital 5.0 and PCM 2.0 Stereo also included. Both have bonus booklets inside their cases.

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9:07:32 AM, 31 August 2015
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