There are now several choices available of this opera so in this review I am going to consider three contrasting productions. They are the 2008 Royal Opera/Mackerras, the 2001 Zurich Opera/Harnoncourt and the 2002 Aix-en Provence/Harding productions.
This Zurich production under Harnoncourt also features lively orchestral contributions and a good forward pace. The setting is traditional and does not contain any obviously worrisome inconsistencies as at the Royal Opera above. Don Giovanni as portrayed by Gilfry has the necessary charm as well as enough youthful vigour. (He portrays the part of Danilo in the Merry Widow, also at Zurich, with much charm too). He is thus very believable as a seducer of women. This therefore adds credence to the roles of both Anna and Zerlina. Sacca as Don Ottavio is in better shape both physically and vocally than Vargas in the Royal Opera production but it still remains rather a weak role - however this is mostly to do with the character as written in my opinion. To carry it off you would have to be a strong physical character as well. Both Zerlina and Masetto are well performed and convincingly portrayed. Leporello acts and sings well throughout and is a good and strong foil for Giovanni. The concluding scene with a strongly portrayed Commendatore and a markedly more dissolute, long and greasy-haired Giovanni builds well to its fiery end with a clear sense of final terror, but not remorse, clearly communicated by Gilfry. Donna Elvira, as portrayed by Bartoli, is more a matter of personal taste. There are some who find her `over the top' in her acted and sung levels of outrage and stridency. This, for me, is the area that I have found to be the most challenging to my enjoyment. However, taken on its own terms, this is still acceptable and musically spot-on. The recording is good visually and sonically with clear surround sound (Dolby 5.1) while not quite being up with the latest in high definition technology. Overall I find this preferable to the Royal Opera production.
The Royal Opera production under Mackerras has resulted in both enthusiastic and damning comments to be found on Amazon. The DVD issue is generally more enthusiastically reviewed than the Blu-ray version but for no apparent reason to do with the different format. The Keenlyside Giovanni figure is portrayed as particularly driven. Importantly, there is no real sign that he actually likes women - surely an essential requirement of a seducer. He is also shown throughout in somewhat sleezy attire - again, seemingly a rather unlikely attraction for the women when initial appearance is key to his success. Charm therefore seems to be an unimportant consideration of this production. However, given these concepts, both the singing and the acting are well done. Given this characterisation it becomes difficult to believe that either Elvira or Zerlina would fall for such a man although it is obvious why Anna would hate him. I personally find Elvira rather strident here and surely Ottavio is unlikely to be a serious physical threat to Giovanni even though the part is sung well enough. Both Zerlina and Masetto are excellent with Masetto being a satisfyingly stronger character than usual. Both Leporello and the Commendatore parts are well done. The setting of the opera is loosely in period but there are inconsistences in staging that have to be ignored if this is to be enjoyed. I find the final hell-fire is rather tame though and the nude Giovanni apparently happy in hell and holding a naked female in his arms at the very end seems doubtful as it undermines any idea of retribution. The orchestral contribution under Mackerras is totally outstanding with every detail making its mark and with good pace throughout. The sound in Blu-ray DTS seems vocally recessed and the volume needs to be turned up several decibels in order to achieve the required bite - then it is OK. This issue gives pleasure very much on its own terms therefore.
That brings me to the surprise winner - that at Aix-en Provence conducted by Harding. This is staged in the most minimalist terms - wooden poles and benches which are moved around to take on different meanings and totally devoid of time or place - intentionally universal therefore but with the message of the essential character types being applied to modern times by means of current clothing. The crucial destruction of Giovanni at the end with such limited means is extraordinarily effective as I see it. The performance is clearly on an outdoor stage at night with dark backgrounds. The stormy weather adds to the drama with hair and clothing blowing in the wind - and I am sure I detected thunder! The singing and acting throughout is simply superlative by a young and highly skilled team. Peter Mattei as Giovanni exudes charm in abundance coupled with extraordinary physical vigour. Delunsch as Elvira manages to chase hard but avoids stridency - in fact the whole cast is inspired resulting in a truly memorable experience. The director defends his minimal staging on the grounds that it focusses everything on the drama of the interaction between the characters. It does - and it works. Harding, conducting the fine Mahler Chamber orchestra, keeps a cracking pace and sense of building electricity. The whole thing is well recorded both visually and sonically (Dolby 5.1) and, for both me and my wife, this is a clear first choice. Terrific!