I do love Don Giovanni, it is dark, complex and a lot of fun as an opera, the titular character is the single most memorable titular character of a Mozart opera and the music is magnificent. However I did find this La Scala production hit and miss. I had read a lot of mixed reviews before, some who loved it and praised the singing to the heavens, and those who did dislike it, not liking the staging and finding some of the singers not suited to their roles. I understand both sides personally.
For the things I did like, the most obvious plus is the superb Giovanni of Peter Mattei. The character has been more interesting before with Mattei in the role, but Mattei never lets that hinder his performance. His voice is of rich velvet, quite big and seductive with lots of room for agility in the Champagne Aria and sensitivity in the Serenade. His acting is also to be commended, he is handsome, charming and again seductive, and although I don't think Robert Carsen really emphasised Giovanni's character complexity enough Mattei does show a slightly arrogant and devilish streak as well as an almost animalistic energy.
Bryn Terfel works very well with him as Leporello. Giovanni and Leporello's relationship is by far the most interesting character dynamic in Don Giovanni, and the two men are delightful together. His acting is splendid, basically he is loyal to his master, and he is bumbling and hilarious, yet Terfel does make an effort to give the role some humanity with signs of frustration and anger. I will say though Terfel has sung better before. It is authoritative and virile once he gets going, but he doesn't have as consistent a start with an embarrassing costume, a Catalogue aria rendition that is not amusing or energetic enough and sadly unlike his Leporello opposite Keenlyside as Giovanni some of the basso notes are too low for him.
Another plus is the orchestral playing, which is powerful and stylish as it should be, and Daniel Barenboim's conducting, not as enigmatic as his Wagner, but brisk and assured indeed. Giuseppe Filianotti was surprising as Ottavio. The role I have often found thankless, and while the acting is nothing to rave about, like most Ottavios he is stolid, his phrasing, musicality and breath control are really to be admired.
There were two performers that I was mixed on. Anna Netrebko does try her best giving Donna Anna(not the most interesting of the three soprano roles of the opera but possibly the hardest) her tragedy and passion, but I find her voice too dark and thick for the role and lacking in the agility needed for the high register of arias like Non Mon Dir, not helped by a wide vibrato making her intonation skewy at times and unidiomatic diction. Kwangchul Youn as the Commendatore is certainly powerful vocally, the voice really booms as it should do. The basic sound however is rather woolly making it hard to decipher what note he's singing, and his stage presence while sometimes appropriately statue-like is too stand-and-sing, I really didn't find him all that imposing at the end of the day.
As for the other performers, I found Barbara Frittoli's Elvira to be the weak link. I do like her voice and her musicality is wonderful especially those pianissimos she does, but dramatically she is completely unbelievable. I have been moved by her Suor Angelica, Desdemona and Liu, but her Elvira(which I found to be better at the Met opposite Kweicien) like her Micaela to be very mechanical. Where was the fire, the spite, the heart? I didn't feel it. Anna Prohaska has a lovely voice as Zerlina and is appealing at times like in La Ci Darem La Donna, but is never earthy, witty or passionate enough. Batti Batti was well sung but lacked dramatic impact if Zerlina in Carsen's words was meant to be already drunk at her wedding Prohaska didn't show that. Stefan Kocan's Massetto is well projected, but rather dry in tone and let down by some awkward stage direction such as having to eventually sit in the middle of the stage at one point.
Mostly I didn't like the sets and staging as well as most of the costumes. The sets were too weird and austere for my tastes, and while I did like the Commendatore's re-appearance in the Royal Box and the masked Anna, Elvira and Ottavio standing behind the conductor's podium the staging was mostly dull and in the singers' cases awkward and static. While not the worst moment of the production, I was disappointed in the Commendatore Scene. Giovanni here for my liking was too inviting upon first sight of the Commendatore especially, I would have preferred a stage direction similar to Siepi in the 1954/5 production recoiling back in horror on the stairs or something.
In a nutshell, this Don Giovanni is not a complete waste of time, but it was disappointing and not for those who prefer a traditional approach and more consistent quality of singing. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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