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'Don Giovanni' -
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'... the flames are formidable ...'

Mozart: Don Giovanni. © 2008, 2009 Opus Arte

Everyone in this opera is so heavily armed, it is amazing the Don managed any conquests at all. We might be in Israel or some particularly neurotic part of America, countries Giovanni mercifully knew nothing about. The whole of the action is surveyed by a statue of the Virgin Mary, who presumably kept in touch with the decomposing Commendatore about the course of events, so that the flames of hell were the more ready for its splendidly defiant victim. For most of the work the Don is frankly loathsome; at the end he is magnificent.

The tempos adopted by Charles Mackerras are considerably slower than those familiar to this century, and most notably to those of Mozart's own present-day Vienna. Normally I would unreservedly approve: but in this particularly work too many situations are too unpleasant to be dwelt on, and I like them despatched as quickly as possible. To linger over the Don's heartless evasions, his ruthless treatment of Leporello, the slaughter of the Commendatore, the misery of Elvira, the duping of Zerlina and Masetto, is once again to question Mozart's judgment in setting this Da Ponte text.

In most productions it is enough for Giovanni (a long-haired hippyesque Simon Keenlyside) to kill Eric Halfvarson as the Commendatore. Here he must also kick him when he is down.

Watch and listen -- Introduction (Act I)
(DVD1 chapter 2, 9:08-10:40) © 2008, 2009 Opus Arte

I'm sure the Virgin disapproved as much as I did. Joyce Di Donato's Elvira now carries a rifle over her shoulder, precarious guarantee of safety given her wobbly character, until she gets herself to the stronghold of a convent after final curtain-down.

Watch and listen -- Ah chi mi dice mai (Act I)
(DVD1 chapter 5, 19:55-21:45) © 2008, 2009 Opus Arte

To seduce on her wedding-day Miah Persson as the peasant-girl Zerlina is the Don's next ploy.

Watch and listen -- Là ci darem la mano (Act I)
(DVD1 chapter 9, 40:14-41:25) © 2008, 2009 Opus Arte

Thanks to the foresight of the lovely Donna Anna (Marina Poplavskaya), who now realises that Giovanni was indeed her attempted ravisher at the start of the opera, Zerlina remains intact. Anna crosses herself devoutly, as she launches the great aria to nerve her slightly bumbling fiancé towards vengeance against the libertine.

Watch and listen -- Don Ottavio, son morta!/Or sai chi l'onore (Act I)
(DVD1 chapter 12, 54:24-56:10) © 2008, 2009 Opus Arte

The Don's ballroom for clodhopping rurals and other more aristocratic participants is beautifully realised, as is the scamp's eventual escape from imminent capture via a rope let down from above by one of his guards, female of course, and possibly featured in Leporello's lists.

Watch and listen -- Riposate, vezzose ragazze! (Act I)
(DVD1 chapter 17, 79:38-80:56) © 2008, 2009 Opus Arte

Neither in the graveyard, where he does not actually appear, nor in the Don's dining-room, is the Commendatore any sort of statue (presumably neither sculptor nor Anna had completed their pious task). But the flames are formidable, and the Don sets off for hell with all flags flying.

Watch and listen -- Don Giovanni, a cenar teco (Act II)
(DVD2 chapter 14, 70:10-72:19) © 2008, 2009 Opus Arte

It was wonderful getting to know this work at an age when I had little idea of seducing or being seduced. Mozart was supreme, and I hardly bothered with Da Ponte, as it was years before I saw a staged performance of the work. Now I cannot ignore a largely callous libretto. The overture and final appearance of the statue, when combined with the Don's noble refusal to repent, will always capture the imagination, to say nothing of the superlative music. But it's good to remember Mozart's example and proceed with him towards The Magic Flute.

Copyright © 31 May 2009 Robert Anderson,
Cairo, Egypt












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