The 2000 Metropolitan Opera recording of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is based on Zeffirelli’s 1990 production somewhat modified by director Stephen Lawless. It’s an entirely traditional “breeches and boobs” affair with baroque painted flats, tricorne hats etc. Blocking is mostly very basic with a lot of “park and bark” just livened up with a bit of prop twiddling. It works because it has a superb cast who sing and act (within the limits of the production) extremely well.
At the core is Bryn Terfel in the title role. You get what you expect; a big voice that can be scaled back to quite beautiful, menace, physical presence and a touch of humour when required. If you have seen his more recent Scarpia or Mephistopheles you know what to expect. He’s backed up Ferruccio Furlanetto in a rather broadly comic take on Leporello which, though I find it unsubtle, isn’t inappropriate in this production. The Terfel/Furlanetto relationship is very much master/servant. No ambiguity about two sides of one character here!
The Donnas are Renée Fleming (Anna) and Solveig Kringelborn (Elvira). It’s not one of Ms. Fleming’s better recordings. Sometimes she sounds strident and nowhere does she make us feel any sympathy for the character. Even Non mi dir, though beautifully sung, left me cold. Ms. Solveig, on the other hand, gives a most sympathetic account of her character and is the one character who seems fully three dimensional. I would really like to see more of her work. The aristos are rounded out by the Don Ottavio of Paul Groves and the Commendatore of Sergei Koptchak. Groves is sympathetic and sings his two big arias stylishly but there’s little chemistry between him and Fleming. Koptchak gets the job done.
The Zerlina/Masetto pairing must be one of the best on record. Hei-Kyung Hong and John Relyea are a delight. They are sexy, funny and have great chemistry. They also sing extremely well. Batti, batti is a hoot and a very good example of what is good about this production. James Levine conducts the Met orchestra and chorus in a typically polished performance.
The video direction is by Gary Halvorson who chooses to film 99% of the time in close up or even closer up. In a more inventive production it would be very annoying but here, one suspects, we don’t miss much. It’s a TV quality 4:3 picture, which is a bit under par for a 2000 recording. The DTS 5.1 sound is perfectly acceptable (Dolby 5.1 and PCM stereo also offered). The rest of the package is standard DGG; trilingual documentation with summary and short essay, English/Italian/French/German/Spanish/Chinese subtitles and no meaningful extras.
This is a good choice for a traditional, straightforward recording of the piece but Regietheatre it is not.