Jonathan Kent’s 2010 Glyndebourne production of Don Giovanni has a great cast and high ambitions but, ultimately, doesn’t really come off, largely because the relationships between the characters too often fall short of anything interesting. The concept, as explained in the two short bonus segments, is that Don Giovanni is set in a society in transition and that the title character is a sort of harbinger of the new mores. The “society in transition” chosen by Kent is a sort of hybrid of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and the last years of Franco’s regime in Spain. He might have done better to just pick one as the Fellini elements get pretty much reduced to the costumes and the Franco elements really don’t go anywhere.
The set is a sort of box placed on a rotating platform and walls turn, disappear and transform almost continuously it seems. I like the idea of not interrupting the dramatic flow for scene changes but in this case it all gets a bit busy and distracting. There’s also an awful lot of grey which is exacerbated by the generally dim lighting. The production also requires considerable physical feats from the cast starting with Gerry Finley’s Don escaping from Donna Anna’s window via a wall. He’s masked and looks rather like a comic burglar. He just needs a sack prominently labelled “swag”. This scene segues into Don G. beating the Commendatore to death, bloodily, with a brick. It’s rather odd because there’s nothing later in the piece that presents Don G. as menacing in any way. Then of course, we get our first look at Donna Anna and Don Ottavio. Herein lies the biggest weakness of this production. If Finley’s Don Giovanni is a bit anonymous, Anna Samuil’s Donna Anna is even more so and William Burden’s surprisingly elderly Don Ottavio is missing in action, as is any sort of chemistry between them. At times they seem to be doing their best to avoid even eye contact. Things brighten up a bit with Anna Virovlansky’s sharply characterised and rather cheeky Zerlina and Luca Pisaroni, as Leporello, has some very funny moments. There are lots of interesting touches in the direction and it picks up a bit in the second half but, still, never quite comes to life.
Musically though it’s very good. All the singers are very decent and there’s some excellent singing at times. Finley does a very fine job on the canzonetta and Kate Royal’s Mi tradi is top notch. Vladimir Jurowski gets a pretty exciting performance out of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and generally keeps things moving along.
I don’t envy the video director, Peter Maniura. So much goes on in dim light against moving grey backdrops that it’s not clear what else he could do than follow the singers, who are usually quite clustered. Where that’s not the case he does back off to let us see the bigger picture. All in all I think he does a good job. The filming was done in HD which as just as well as anything less would inevitably have produced a diffuse mess. As it is the picture is really rather good. The DTS surround sound too is top notch with good balance and spatial separation. The bonus features are largely interviews with director, conductor, designer and some of the cast and are worth a look. There are Italian, English, German, French and Spanish subtitles and a booklet with a cued synopsis and a short essay. Curiously this recording did not get a Blu-ray release.
I think I’d put this one down as a “near miss”. With a different Don Ottavio and Donna Anna it might spark into life and be very interesting. As it stands, there are much better video recordings of Don Giovanni on the market.