Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Rob Haskins
A-R Editions, Inc., September 2010

All in all, this is a highly enjoyable account of Mozart’s great opera: the music, which is of course the principal focus of attention, is well played and beyond reproach. The sets, costumes, and lighting are novel but congenial to the opera’s music. And the staging, even at its most exasperating, offers a thought-provoking counterpoint that will appeal to the novice and the expert alike.

John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, June 2009

Mozart’s greatest opera and perhaps the greatest opera period has had many video versions but this one is exceptional both musically and visually. Recorded just last year at London’s Royal Opera House, it features a top flight cast of singers who look the parts they play and are good actors as well. Joyce DiDonato and Miah Persson are standouts as Donna Elvira and Zerlina. Persson is also cute as a button besides having wonderful acting and singing chops. Simon Keenlyside’s Don may seem a bit old, but he has that very lived-in appearance of older male stars such as Jeremy Irons and the late David Carradine, which is most appropriate to the role of the Don.

The synopsis illustrated with scenes from the opera—such as included with most operas and ballets now—is most helpful to the uninitiated. The essay in the printed booklet is also useful in laying out the literary predecessors to Mozart’s setting of Da Ponte’s words and how Mozart’s genius took the idea to a whole new level. The set is minimal, as seems to be the style so often lately, and the costumes neither detract nor attract unwarranted interest. It is an original and effective trick to have the Don shirtless for his final dinner-with-the-commandetore scene before he is dragged off the hell. However, I didn’t understand the very quick final image of the nude Don holding his nude last seductee as the concluding music ends.

The orchestra’s playing under Mackerras is memorable and the surround audio is rich and natural-sounding. The extras, including the two interviews, are well worth watching. The supertitles are easy to read and not distracting.

Nate Goss
Fulvue Drive-in, June 2009

This particular performance is an engrossing performance from start to finish from the Royal Opera House and featuring an incredible performance by Simon Keenlyside as the title character, along with some other fine performances and featuring the chorus and orchestra of the Royal Opera House under Charles Mackerras conducting.

The Opera is set in two acts and was first premiered in 1787, it has since remained one of the most popular operas of it’s kind telling the story of the aged Don Giovanni and his defeat in three separate encounters with different women that bring him to his ultimate doom, it is through Mozart’s ability to be melodramatic and yet lighthearted despite the magnitude of the material that makes the piece memorable and recognizable even centuries later. The themes are explored in great fashion as Mozart composes a piece that re-engages it’s audience with music cues that quickly let us know that we are about to head into a different direction.

The production here is stellar as it is shot in High Definition and presented in a 1080i live transfer framed at 1.78 X 1. We have seen various productions through Opus Arte that look good, this is perhaps the best with vibrant colors that are super-saturated and look magnificent in both close up and wide shots. Refinement in the smallest detail can be seen and this generates and experience of Don Giovanni unlike anything ever experience at home to this point.

Likewise the sound design is presented in wonderful fashion as well with two audio options: PCM 5.1 and PCM 2.0. While there are clear differences in the two tracks, the core of each is particularly strong with superb fidelity throughout and the vocal chops are refined and clearly heard, although the ambience that the PCM 5.1 mix offers gives a more live-like experience as we can detect more surround activity in certain passages that gives the listener the illusion of being in a concert hall.

Extras on this 2-disc 50GB Blu-ray set include the illustrated synopsis, cast gallery, a featurette on the Royal Opera House, plus an interview with Charles Mackerras and a few other little snippets to help give more insight to the overall production, there is also a detailed booklet as well, plus the material is spread over two discs.

Jeffrey Kauffman
DVD Talk, May 2009

…this wonderful new BD of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is practically perfect in every way. For once we don’t have a director slathering his (actually in this case, her) “vision” over the proceedings like melted Crisco (and usually about as appetizing), and instead are given a “straight,” though compelling and visually and aurally satisfying, reading of this piece that offers only one “cheat”—a very brief comic coda “sight gag” that some purists will take exception to, but which actually caps the night off swimmingly and at the very least brings the piece squarely into the opera buffa mode that Mozart himself ascribed to the piece.

Don Giovanni, one of countless retellings in various artistic genres of the Don Juan legend, has long been held up as a timeless masterpiece. Seamlessly blending dramatic, comedic and even supernatural elements, the opera offers Mozart at his most scintillating, with luscious melodies literally spilling from the mouths of the main characters, and an at times surprisingly rhythmically facile orchestra accompanying it all. The title character is perhaps opera’s first anti-hero, albeit a strangely likable one. Don Juan is, after all, nothing more or less than a rake, a gigolo who burns his way through the amorous longings of every female with whom he comes into contact.

The opera focuses on a series of Don Juan’s failed attempts, starting with an aborted rape that leads to murder, following up with a woman whom the lothario has abandoned but who has not given up carrying the torch for him, and the third a simple peasant girl Don Juan attempts to lure away from her betrothed. By the end of Act I, the walls are literally closing in on Don Juan. Director Francesca Zambello crafts a wonderful trompe d’oeil moment in the finale to the act when the masquerade ball hall starts folding in on itself and Don Juan and his semi-faithful servant Leporello search in vain for an escape from the vengeful hands of three women.

Act II traverses a tightrope that flirts with both farce (Leperello and Don Juan trade places, as it were) and tragedy (the Commendatore, the man murdered in Act I, returns as a ghost to demand Don Juan’s repentance). The fascinating thing about these rather wide stylistic variances in the libretto is the homogeneity of Mozart’s music. This is fluid melody and harmony pouring out from one inspired source, and whether we have Don Juan making a rather repulsive pass at a poor hapless lass, or Leporello acting the buffoon, Mozart’s music is remarkably cohesive and self-referential. Any professional musician who’s weathered a college level composition or theory class knows that the ghost scene that caps Act II is a favorite score for professors to foist on their students for analysis purposes, and that’s for a good reason. The marriage of music to drama in this scene is absolutely miraculous.

What really sets Don Giovanni apart in the opera world is its rather relentlessly dour vision for its putative hero. Again and again throughout the two acts of the piece, Don Juan is cajoled, begged and even exhorted to repent of his evil ways. And yet he refuses. He seems to actually get a kick out of the drama he causes. This is played magnificently by Simon Keenlyside, in an almost Nietzschian interpretation. Look, for example, how he sidles up to the Commendatore after he’s stabbed him. It’s almost like a lover moving in on a conquest (and how apt is that?), until Don Juan suddenly laughs. It’s obviously all just a game to him.

The rest of the cast is just as remarkable, including one of the best Donna Annas I’ve heard, Marina Poplavskaya. Kyle Ketelson as Leporello walks just the right fine line between the comedic and dramatic aspects of his character, and Joyce diDonato’s Donna Elvira is suitably the moral center of the piece. If Zerlina (Miah Persson) and Musetta (Robert Gleadow) suffer just a bit by comparison, with Musetta especially seeming a bit on the petulant side, they still deliver the goods overall. The Commendatore is sung heroically by Eric Halfvarson, who makes the most of the climactic final showdown with Don Giovanni.

This beautiful Covent Garden presentation is aces in both production design and especially orchestral accompaniment. All I can say to Zambello and her team is thank you, thank you, thank you. For once, no radical “reimagining” has taken place, and we instead get a very distinctive, utilitarian set that features a weird columnar structure that assumes different uses throughout the opera. That’s balanced against the ballroom scene, described above, and the incredible final scene, where we get everything from literal hell fires to a sort of Baron Munchhausen-esque flaming giant hand which is pointing the way to the nether regions where Don Giovanni is relegating himself by not agreeing to repent. Costumes are incredibly colorful without needlessly drawing attention to themselves.

I’ve long been a fan of conductor Sir Charles Mackerras. In fact his period instrument recreations of the original performances of Brahms’ four symphonies remain some of my favorite versions of what are easily my most personally beloved 19th century symphonic works. Mackerras brings his calm assurance to the entire project, harvesting his orchestral forces easily and transparently. (I did have to wonder about his sometimes strange jaw movements—could Sir Charlie actually be chewing gum while he conducts?)

This is stellar opera performed just about as well as it can be, with a sterling physical production and unmatched orchestral accompaniment. (There are some very brief timing issues with the trio in the opening scene which I attribute either to nerves or perhaps to some monitor issues that were quickly resolved). Opus Arte has finally hit one out of the ballpark and even those not particularly enamored of this art form may find themselves unusually engaged by this Don Giovanni.

The Blu-ray


With an AVC codec and 1.78:1 OAR, Don Giovanni, despite being 1080i, offers a wonderfully crisp and lusciously well saturated image. There are gorgeous colors galore in this production, from deep cobalt blues to fiery reds, and they are all rendered here flawlessly. Contrast and black levels are consistent and top notch. My only caveat is that the actual television direction is a bit spotty at times—when one person is singing, we occasionally are forced to look at another character. But the image itself is wonderful.


Again, the uncompressed PCM 5.1 and 2.0 mixes are both excellent, though the 5.1 offers greater fullness, if not that much more separation. Mozart’s orchestral lines are wonderfully transparent, especially in the winds and reeds, and the singers all sound marvelous. There were one or two very brief moments when I wished individual singers had been mixed a little higher, but these were extremely few and far between.


As usual with these Opus Arte releases, a nice illustrated booklet is included in the insert. Disc 1 of this two BD set also offers the standard illustrated synopsis as well as a really fun backstage tour of the Royal Opera House, interviews with Mackerras and Zambello (though I wished the interviewer would have just shut up after a while and let the interviewees talk for a change), and a cast gallery.

Final Thoughts:

To segue into pop music for a moment, hopefully Etta James won’t come after me like she did with Beyonce when I say, “At last!” A brilliant opera, performed brilliantly, with none of the “EuroTrash” bells and whistles that are so annoying in so many modern reinterpretations of classic works. For any opera lover, this is easily a DVD Talk Collector Series title. For the public at large—take a chance on upping your cultural quotient and check out this beautiful production of Don Giovanni. Highly recommended.

Dr Svet Atanasov, May 2009

The production of Don Giovanni found on this Blu-ray disc is courtesy of the Royal Opera House, Maestro Charles Mackerras and Stage Director Francesca Zambello. It was recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London on September 8 and 12, 2008. The first performance of the production was on January 22, 2002.

This rather recent European production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni offers a more traditional rendition of the famous opera. Many of the controversial themes in it are treated with a sense of period elegance and tact that seem to have evaded a good number of recent North American productions where the desire to “provoke” has been of key importance. The emphasis on detail in particular is strong but not overdone.

The synchrony between pit and stage is terrific. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the supervision of Maestro Mackerras delivers a well-paced yet inspired performance allowing the singers plenty of space for characterization. Their acting is also plausibly energetic and convincing.

What makes this specific production of Don Giovanni easy to recommend, however, is the lack of cheap provincial gimmicks that could have easily killed the atmosphere. The key characters are genuinely convincing and their actions not preposterous. As a result, the production conveys a sense of (authentic) finesse which knowledgeable opera aficionados will be hard pressed not to recognize.


Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080i “live” transfer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Opus Arte.

This is a stunning presentation! I know that many of you are weary of hearing every couple of weeks how there is a brand new release that looks nothing like the one before it, but I hope that you take my words for granted and find a way to see Don Giovanni. I assure you, this disc may well end up being on many people’s top ten lists at the end of 2009.

Contrast and clarity are fantastic. Whether via close-ups or mass scenes, the HD transfer reveals terrific detail and depth. The color-scheme is equally impressive—blues, grays, greens and blacks are lush and well saturated (the spot lighting in particular is terrific, thus allowing the viewer to appreciate even more the terrific stage decors). This said, neither edge-enhancement nor macroblocking are an issue of concern. Furthermore, the producers have made sure that motion-judder is kept to an absolute minimum. As a result, the picture quality is indeed one of a kind. Finally, there are no specific image deteriorations that I could detect. (Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray release, which you will be able to play on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location).


There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: Italian LPCM 5.1 and Italian LPCM 2.0. I opted for the Italian LPCM 5.1 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the Italian LPCM 2.0 track for the purpose of this review.

I am looking at the back cover for this disc to find out who is responsible for the audio mixing. The only information listed is -BD Producer: Ferenc van Damme, BD Producer’s Assistant: Elle de la Mare and BD Executive Producer: Hans Petri. I am unsure if these are the gentlemen responsible for audio encoding, but I hope that by mentioning them in this review, what I have to say below will reach the audio specialists who did the actual mixing.

Simply put, the Italian LPCM 5.1 track is flawless. There is terrific separation between the orchestra and the singers that allows for a fantastic listening experience. The actual music is also well balanced and I certainly did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or hissings to report here. Additionally, the annoying hall-effect that seems to be plaguing a lot of classical releases as of late is not an issue of concern here. On the contrary, there are certain arias in Don Giovanni that sound as if they were recorded in a studio. This said, the Italian LPCM 2.0 does not match the nuanced sound the LPCM 5.1 track conveys (particularly as far as the woodwinds are concerned as well as the manner in which they blend with the singers). Furthermore, there aren’t any substantial improvements that I could detect in terms of balance. To sum it all up, I strongly recommend that you view Don Giovanni with the Italian LPCM 5.1 track—it is dynamically stronger and, arguably, amongst the best I have heard on a Blu-ray opera release. For the record, optional English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish subtitles are provided for the main feature.


This Blu-ray disc arrives with a stylish 32-page booklet containing a number of photographs from Don Giovanni as well as the terrific essay “Before and After the Fall: Don Giovanni and Don Juan” by David Nice. The essay focuses on history of the opera, its characters and tonal structure. (The author is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster on music. His Books include an illustrated history of opera and short studies of Elgar, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. The first volume of his Prokofiev biography, “From Russia to the West 1891–1935” was published in 2003by Yale University).

The Blu-ray disc contains an illustrated synopsis for the opera, cast gallery, a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House (with Deborah Bull), into the Royal Opera House (with plenty of footage showing actors, dancers and stage workers in action), an interview with Musical Director Charles Mackerras and another one with Stage Director Francesca Zambello.

Final Words

This is a fantastic release that I cannot recommend highly enough. The video and audio treatments are superb. The actual production is also of incredibly high quality. If you have not yet seen an Opus Arte Blu-ray disc, then I urge to get Don Giovanni. It does not get any better than this folks!

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group