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Mozart: Don Giovanni [DVD] 
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The tale of womaniser Don Giovanni and his servant Leporello. Giovanni's attempts to woo Donna Anna end in tragedy when he kills her father in a duel. Anna and her fiancé Don Ottavio swear vengeance. Giovanni then attempts to seduce Zerlina at her wedding reception, but is foiled when his former mistress Donna Elvira warns the bride of Giovanni's reputation. Giovanni now has everyone out for his blood, but tries to trick his pursuers by switching places with Leporello. Sir Peter Hall's production of Mozart's opera for the 1977 Glyndebourne season has received universal praise. Among the performers included are Benjamin Luxon, Rachel Yakar and Leo Goeke.
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Mozart's music is sublime, beautiful and well-crafted, and filled with melody practically from beginning to end. The production - the set design and the costumes - are traditional, elegant, and relatively appropriate for the period, as opposed to the slick and overly modernized productions that are conceived and displayed often in recent years in opera theatres. The cast and the stage director put the "giocosa" back in "dramma giocosa", while including just the right doses of "dramma" into this theatrical work. Well-done is the best word to sum up the acting of all the soloists, who succeed in their roles both dramatically and vocally. Rachel Yakar is a Donna Elvira who is angry, indignant, and most of all hurting. Benjamin Luxon's Don Giovanni is spiteful, temperamental, and proud: a selfish, bullying, and blustering fool whose pride goes before destruction and whose haughty spirit goes before the fall. Stafford Dean's Leporello is cheeky and brimming with humor, without overdoing anything. At the same time, Dean's performance nearly steals the show in several scenes, particularly in the second-to-last scene where Leporello and Giovanni prepare for the Commendatore's dinner visit when Leporello is eating a chicken leg. (You'll see it for yourself.) John Rawnsley's Masetto is a delight - ornery, rustic, and tender - his character is a diamond-in-the-rough with a good soul, almost reminiscent of Onslow in the British sitcom "Keeping Up Appearances". A really sympathetic portrayal. Elizabeth Gale conveys a Zerlina who is a flirtatious, mischievous, but faithful young country woman, who ultimately stands by her man when it really counts. Leo Goeke plays a Don Ottavio who shows that meekness is strength under control - a loyal, temperate, and upright gentleman who chooses right over wrong, and does not want to throw his weight around. Finally, Horiana Branisteanu is a gem in the role of Donna Anna. Her portrayal of Donna Anna - is probably the most decidedly UN-DIVA-ISH portrayal of the role that I have ever seen or heard. While Donna Anna is a noblewoman in a predicament, Branisteanu's Donna Anna is also humble and is a gentlewoman in every sense of the word. This Donna Anna is passionate, yet also modest and unassuming. Her portrayal of this role is very sympathetic. From watching Branisteanu and Goeke as Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, one can see that this Donna Anna truly loves Don Ottavio - there is no question about it. They are convincing both as an engaged couple and as a man and a woman who deeply love each other.
Additionally, Branisteanu's soprano voice is that of a lyric soprano (not a coloratura, or a spinto, or a dramatic) which helps make her portrayal of a young noblewoman (as opposed to an older noblewoman) even more believable. At the same time, her lyric soprano is agile enough to nail the fast runs in the rondo "Forse forse un giorno". It is one of the very best renditions of this rondo that I have ever heard. I am sorry that she did not record this role commercially, as far as I know.
Vocally, the entire cast does a fine job. With their strong lyric voices, they provide lovely singing that is pleasing to the ear, while getting into their roles and getting into the drama of the story all at the same time.
That is just about it. If you want to buy a DVD of Mozart's "Don Giovanni", then this will be a good pick.
Bernard Haitink is a great Mozart conductor. His tempos are lively without being excessively fast, and the whole performance has a nice eighteenth-century feeling of balance and proportion. The entire cast is splendid. Benjamin Luxon is a fine Don Giovanni. The role suits his voice well, and he provides power, melting lyricism, and agility as required. His character dominates the stage and exudes confidence that he can have whatever he wants with minimal effort. He is well partnered by the Leporello of Stafford Dean. His powerful bass voice gives much pleasure, and he also has the requisite agility and timing. Except for some ironic asides, he stays within the dramatic framework and plays to the other characters rather than the audience. Horiana Branisteanu is a singer I've never heard of, but she is a fine, tragic Anna. Her voice is a bit lighter than we usually hear in the role, but his pays dividends in agility. Rachel Yakar is an excellent Elvira. She effortlessly tosses off the demanding music and creates a sympathetic character. Elizabeth Gale is an ideal Zerlina. She well characterizes the country girl intrigued by the possibility of an adventure with a nobleman, but ultimate loyal to her Masetto. Leo Goeke plays Ottavio as a serious, concerned citizen, and he sings beautifully, though a slowish tempo for "Il mio tesoro" necessitates a couple of extra breaths. John Rawnsley as Masetto and Pierre Thau as the Commendatore are solid. The direction is by the great Peter Hall, who slightly updates the setting to the early nineteenth century. I see no particular reason for doing this, but it is unoffensive; it's a good costume period, and the staging remains graceful and elegant. A fine job all around.
Rachel Yakar as Donna Elvira starts out well but becomes less so as the opera proceeds. The opposite occurs with the Donna Anna of Horiana Branisteanu, who begins the opera sounding tired and with poor breath support but she grows as the opera progresses; still, she is not an ideal Donna Anna even at her best. Her acting is generic, almost expressionless much of the time. Leo Goeke in the thankless role of Don Ottavio is mediocre. His voice has never struck me as anything but merely serviceable and at times is ugly. One cannot erase memories of Francisco Araiza in the Muti/La Scala DVD or particularly of Michael Schade in the 1999 Muti/Vienna DVD. Or, indeed, of Gösta Winbergh in the old Karajan video production.
The bottom line is that this is probably not the 'Don Giovanni' to get unless perhaps you saw the 1977 Glyndebourne production and want it to commemorate the experience.