Don Giovanni is one of the most fascinating operas in part because it can be reinterpreted in so many different ways. There’s also the tension between a story with elements of murder, rape, revenge and damnation and broad humour. It’s tricky to find a balance. There’s also a decision to be made between a concept based production and a more laissez faire approach. Francesca Zambello’s production for the Royal Opera House, recorded in 2008 doesn’t really have a concept and sort of goes with the flow mixing very broad humour with lots of Catholic kitsch and some flamboyant stage effects. As a production I find it distinctly underwhelming.
Part of my lack of enthusiasm may be because we don’t see much of the production in Robin Lough’s version for video. There are scenes, such as the graveyard scene, where there is obviously a lot more going on than comes over on video. On the other hand, Keenleyside’s thuggish Don and the too cute bit at the very end where we briefly see a rather smug, naked Don Giovanni, in Hell, cradling a naked woman are obviously Zambello and they just don’t work for me. The famoys naked chest, FWIW, only appears in the penultimate scene. The rest of the time Don Giovanni, like the rest of the cast, is dressed in a variety of fantasy 18th century outfits.
It’s a shame the production isn’t more interesting because musically it’s rather good. Keenleyside is a fine Don and he works well with Kyle Ketelsen’s rather grotesque Leporello. Joyce di Donato is as good as one might expect as Donna Elvira, though at times she seems to be having trouble taking the production seriously. Marina Poplavskaya and Ramon Vargas as Donna Anna and Don Ottavio sing well enough but really don’t do anything to stop them from being two of the most boring characters in opera. This production really needed two singers who could make these roles a bit more ambiguous and edgier. Schade or Polenzani with Dasch or Schäfer might just have injected a bit more life into this. Robert Gleadow and Miah Persson though make a pretty much ideal Masetto and Zerlina. Eric Halfvarson is menacing, if not especially steady, as the Commendatore. Sir Charles Mackerras conducts with quite a lot of precision and drive.
The picture, filmed in HD, is very good and both DTS and LPCM sound tracks are top drawer (It’s also available on Blu-ray with uncompressed 5.1 sound). I’ve already alluded to Lough’s rather unsatisfactory emphasis on close ups to the exclusion of what appears to be some fairly slick stagecraft. Documentation consists of a track listing and a peculiar essay that seems to be about just about anything but the production given here. There are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish subtitles.