This week I watched the recent Salzburg DVD of this opera with Thomas Hampson as the Don. This interesting but flawed production made me want to revisit the superb 2001 Zurich production with Rodney Gilfry in the lead role. There is a superficial resemblance because both productions treat Mozart and da Ponti's dramma giocosa with deadly seriousness. They also use a minimum of scenery so that this episodic opera runs smoothly from scene to scene in a filmic manner.
However, this 2001 production is much more successful and a constant visual delight with a palette of bright colours against a predominantly black background. There is a high quality cast. Rodney Gilfrey, as the Don, is a plausible seducer with a rich baritone range. László Polgár is an interestingly lugubrious Leporello. Liliana Nikiteanu is a bright Zerlina, even when singing one of Mozarts less politically-correct numbers: "Batti, batti O bel Mazetto" (Beat me, beat me dear Mazetto). I have slight reservations about Cecilia Bartoli's performance as Donna Elvira. She is so over the top in her first aria that it sounds as though she is trying to do a bel canto mad scene. Fortunately, after this she settles down and has some typically tender moments in the second act.
Stage Director Jürgen Flimm and Film Director Brian Large have some nice touches. I particularly liked Donna Elvira going through Leporello's notebook during the catalogue aria and tearing out the page that contains her details. I also liked the Don's mockingly having a model of the Commendatore's statue for dinner and feeding it food and wine before the real statue arrives. The sound is closely miked which makes for optimum clarity in home viewing, bringing out nuances in the singing and in the playing of the Zurich Opera orchestra under Nikolaus Harnoncourt .
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